January 2016 | Philip Chacko
In search of that creative edge
Innovation in technology and solutions is crucial in the Tata Trusts quest to enhance the reach and execution of its programmes
Innovation and social enterprises, the new rubric in the Tata Trusts portfolio of philanthropic endeavours, is the standout indicator of the change in tack that will define the course the institution takes in the years ahead. This thematic nomenclature is also a sign of the broadening of vision at the Trusts, an expansion of the canvas it works on and the impact it expects to make.
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The refreshed approach of the Trusts puts the pursuit of innovation high on the agenda in the quest for breakthrough technologies in the social development sphere. And it places a premium on providing social entrepreneurs access to capital, markets, talent and services, and the means to attain success in conventional and unconventional ways.
“This has happened due to the altered approach of the Trusts in the last couple of years,” says Ganesh Neelam, who anchors the theme. “There were innovations in our programmes earlier, too, but there was limited attention given to innovations happening in the wider social development environment. We felt it was important to create a small group for this purpose, to learn about and source innovations that are relevant to the different fields we are involved with.”
Mr Neelam and his colleagues have the responsibility of scouting for innovative technologies that can bring path-breaking advances, and it requires people dedicated to the task for goals to be realised. “The Trusts’ teams on the ground are engrossed in implementation,” explains Mr Neelam. “Our role is to search for and pinpoint technologies that can be of use to them.”
There is a bunch of different areas that are under the scanner. In ‘open source pharma’, the idea is to seek out affordable innovations that can help the developing world confront public health challenges — malaria and tuberculosis, for instance — that mainstream pharmaceutical companies are inclined to ignore.
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The Trust has supported the setting up of the Open Source Foundation, a first of its kind, to help develop solutions and therapies to tackle diseases of the poor. Perhaps the most striking of the initiatives under the innovation theme, the Foundation aims to enable the finding of drugs and treatment protocols through crowd-sourced, computer-driver discovery; collaborative research that costs comparatively little, clinical trials with open data; and the manufacture of generics.
In promoting social entrepreneurs, the thrust is on meeting the challenges faced by the Trusts in the field: identifying enterprises that can address the scaling up issue; supporting investments in research as well as for piloting and testing products and services; and ground-level backing and linkages with the community. Social value and the revenue model are of equal importance in the conceptualisation of programmes in the space.
The clean cooking project that the Trusts run in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan is a fine example of how this works. Women federations have been tapped in these states to identify and seed individual entrepreneurs, who are supplied with expertise, products, finances and supply-chain help to make a living while serving a cause.
The ‘connected learning initiative’ — targeted to reach 1,000 schools in four states over a two-year period — blends well-designed curricula and technology to improve the education prospects of high school students from underserved sections of society.
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The ‘India nutrition initiative’, perhaps the most ambitious intervention by the Trusts, is concerned with reducing the rampant malnutrition in the country and advancing food security. The plan is to do this through sustainable nutrition strategies and partnerships with government agencies, businesses, academia and other philanthropic organisations, both in India and abroad.
Technology as an aid in securing government services is the focus of the partnership the Tata Trusts has forged with Prodea Systems, to better connect the people of Rajasthan to services delivered by the state and non-government organisations, in health, education, agriculture, banking and entrepreneurship.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Mr Neelam and his team are pursuing innovations already out there that can be applied to the Indian context. The positives are plentiful for Mr Neelam and his band of innovation explorers. After all, scalability and sustainability are critical factors with the programmes that the Tata Trusts undertakes, and innovation can be invaluable in ensuring both.
|This article is part of the cover story about the Tata Trusts featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:|
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