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We need solutions that can be scaled up, and that too across diverse regions: Shrikant Sinha

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-09-2017 Seema Chowdhry

New Delhi: Nasscom Social Innovation Forum (NSIF) will on Thursday invite applications from entrepreneurs and not-for-profits for its annual social innovation programme.

The programme is open to innovators who offer technology-enabled solutions in the fields of education, financial inclusion, environment, healthcare, and accessibility, among others. A part of Nasscom Foundation, NSIF received over 1,300 applications last year, from which around 10 were chosen after jury deliberation.

The awards, which will be announced in the first quarter of 2018, will offer 9 grants (of Rs10 lakh each) supported by Mphasis, an information technology services company, and year-long mentorship and technology development support by the foundation and its partners.

Shrikant Sinha, CEO of Nasscom Foundation, talks about what the awards mean for the social sector, why he believes scalability is more important than pure innovation, and how technology-led innovations can help India transform. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Between innovative ideas without a business plan and those with one, which is given precedence?

All the boot camps, etc., are happening around the country are sourcing ideas that have not really left the drawing board. Our programme focuses on people who have an idea that is at a level from which they need to leap ahead. We want to be around at a time when innovators want to become scalable.

What about innovations with the potential to scale up versus those that scale deep?

For us, it is important to look at scale width-wise. How many people will be impacted is the question we ask ourselves. We want to see how technology can be leveraged at the base of the pyramid and how many people can benefit from it. If we look at scaling deep, the number of people impacted becomes smaller.

But this is not to say that we don’t consider such projects; we do see if they have some potential to be replicated.

How much of innovation in the social space is about ‘new ideas’ versus building on or improving an existing idea to solve a problem?

This depends on how you define innovation. If an idea solves a problem and is not replicating what has been done before, it is innovation, be it disruptive or incremental. If an idea existed but by using technology, it can leverage better results and impact people in a better way, it is innovative from a social standpoint.

Between a passionate innovator and one with expertise, who does better?

Passion followed by expertise has a better chance of finding a solution to a social problem. Passion has to be there because, unless and until you believe in the cause, you will not think that this is something that requires a solution.

Do innovators who are associated with technology incubators also apply?

Yes they do. We have had projects incubated in the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay apply. In fact, we want to encourage more of them to apply because these people are at the cutting edge of technology and they should look at the problems India has. The solutions for India are not going to come from abroad.

What is the end game for a social innovation project?

The problem in India is that there are too many projects that do not go beyond the pilot stage, there are too many pickaxes chipping away at the iceberg, and the number of people who are underserved is too big. We need solutions that can be scaled up, and that too across diverse regions of the country. If a project becomes affordable for people and is easily accessed by them, if it has been adopted by some government agency, if it can be scaled and impact a large number of people—the innovator has done his or her job.

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