ACT For Education renews its support to Top Parent

As an ed-tech enterprise, Top Parent is emerging as a powerful force in the space of FLN (Foundational Literacy and Numeracy) – striving to revolutionise education for underserved children in rural and remote parts of India. A free mobile app that equips low-income parents, who have limited knowledge and resources, to support the early years of their children’s development – the newly launched Top Parent 3.0 is driven by an advanced Accelerated Learning Framework (ALF) that empowers children with self-paced learning, ensuring steady progression across key learning competencies.

Under the guidance of Dr. Ryan Baker – Director of the Penn Center for Learning Analytics – Top Parent has undergone a transformative evolution. Drawing insights from an extensive analysis of 1.5 lakh data points, Dr. Baker’s expertise has enabled Top Parent to develop 13 competency maps in the Accelerated Learning Framework across numeracy, literacy and logical reasoning. Through comprehensive assessments, the app identifies individual competency levels and tailors the content accordingly. This personalised approach not only fosters engagement but also provides children with appropriate support, thus fostering continuous growth mastery and preparing children for grade school.

Top Parent’s impressive growth trajectory – from 90K to 500K installations – has proved that a B2C (business-to-consumer) model can indeed thrive in Bharat. Remarkably, Top Parent achieved this milestone with a low CAC of just Rs. 7 per download. This achievement demonstrates the app’s sustainability and scalability, making it a strong contender in the ed-tech space that specifically caters to the Bharat audience.

Top Parent aspires to become the go-to platform for parents in small towns, addressing not only FLN but also expanding to cater to additional needs such as spoken English and 21st-century life-skills supplemented by add-on services like live classes. Expansion into new regions and languages based on demand, such as the recent venture into Marathi, further signifies Top Parent’s commitment to broadening its reach and impact.

ACT For Education is excited to renew its support to Top Parent with a follow-on grant and fuel their journey by investing in product development and leveraging deep user insights to develop more personalised pathways according to children’s learning levels. This grant will also aid the expansion and scaling of its user base to one million, as well as the exploration of additional services such as live classes and an AI-powered chatbot.

Green Startup Pledge: Enabling startups to take meaningful climate action

Since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, climate pledges have gained considerable traction across the globe. Companies, as well as investment firms, have made significant commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by specific target years such as 2030, 2040, or 2050. These pledges demonstrate a growing recognition of the urgent need to combat climate change and transition to a more sustainable economy.

Closer to home, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has introduced the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) for the top 1000 listed companies. This standard builds upon the voluntary standards developed in partnership with the Greenhouse Gas Coalition in 2013. The BRSR ensures that these companies prioritise sustainability and transparency, thus aligning with global efforts to address environmental challenges.

In India, industry sources project startups to contribute 35-65% of the economic growth and create over 100 million jobs by 2030. But while startups are an integral part of the global and Indian economies, their dynamic nature and early-stage development present unique challenges. Existing sustainability frameworks and requirements are often designed for more established businesses with stable operations and profitability. Startups, on the other hand, require a tailored approach that considers their growth trajectory, financial dynamics, and evolving business models.

Recognizing the importance of startups as both the future of the business community and a major growth engine, there is a compelling case for developing a climate pledge and sustainability framework specific to startup operations.

This is why ACT For Environment, in collaboration with BCG, developed the Green Startup Pledge – the world’s first climate pledge that’s designed exclusively for startups and which aims to address the unique challenges and opportunities faced by them in their sustainability efforts. By offering a platform to commit publicly to sustainable practices, the pledge paves the way for a greener, more environmentally conscious future while helping startups future-proof their business by reducing switching costs when sustainable practices are adopted early on.

GSP acknowledges the unique characteristics of startups and embraces their staged and volatile growth. By adopting a phased approach, the pledge allows startups to progress gradually in their sustainability journey. Startups committing to GSP will benefit from frameworks that are flexible, streamlined and aligned with their business operations. Reporting will be streamlined and stage-relevant. A resource platform of tools, resources and reputable vendors will be made available to support implementation with the aim of building better from the beginning or transitioning economically.

Unveiled at COP27 and Bengaluru Tech Summit last year as an example of India’s leadership in building the green economy, GSP will be initiated with Indian startups with the aim to scale globally with startups from around the world. Early supporters of the pledge include prominent VC firms such as Accel India, Peak XV Partners and Matrix Partners as well as unicorn startup founders like Deepinder Goyal (Zomato) and Nitin Kamath (Zerodha).

To begin with, a group of 6-10 startups will be identified for the purpose of developing, beta testing, and refining the implementation process. This phased approach ensures that the pledge aligns with the unique characteristics of startups, allowing them to make progress over time.

GSP aligns with ‘net zero by 2050’ goals along with feeding into the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) and we’re excited to helm an initiative that will take startup-led climate action from India to the world!

Enabling India’s startup ecosystem to become WISER on women’s workforce participation

ACT for Women emerged from a pressing need to accelerate women’s workforce participation and make substantial progress towards achieving gender equity at the workplace in our lifetimes. Over decades, despite the gradual increase in literacy rates, women continue to remain significantly under-represented in the workforce. In response, ACT for Women has embarked on a mission to understand the challenges better through a collaborative study called WISER – Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report.

The intention has been to focus on employers as a lever of change (with an initial lens on startups) and gather customised, actionable insights. Known for their agility and bias for action, the startup ecosystem has already been a successful disruptor in multiple spaces and we firmly believe that it has the potential to contribute significantly towards helping India improve its female labour force participation as well.

WISER is the first and largest of its kind research study that is designed exclusively for Indian startups and aims to help them advance gender diversity and inclusivity at the workplace. It will look at understanding the drivers for gender diversity within the startup ecosystem by collaboratively assessing demand-side barriers to women’s representation across employment levels and spotlighting best practices that have helped improve women’s participation. A collaboration between ACT For Women and The Udaiti Foundation, with LEAD at Krea University, McKinsey & Co, and NASSCOM 10,000 startups as key partners, it aims to establish a baseline for women’s participation in the startup ecosystem while identifying enablers that reflect in better hiring, retention and advancement of women professionals. It will examine startups across various sectors and life-stages, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of the factors that can enhance women’s participation across all levels. Over the last 4.5 months, the WISER team has conducted in-depth surveys and interviews with founders and CHROs from over 130 organisations as well as with 500+ startup employees – the report is slated for public release in July-August 2023.

A key highlight of WISER is its commitment to providing tailored and actionable insights to participating organisations. Through careful analysis of the collected data, the report will offer specific recommendations to each participating startup which align with each organisation’s unique context and requirements. These insights will empower organisations to make informed decisions and implement effective measures to foster gender diversity and inclusivity. While the focus is on supporting participating organisations, we will also strengthen the big picture focus of this exercise by deriving separate insights for VCs/investors who are invested in gender diversity at the workplace and are looking for ways to enable their portfolios to do better in terms of women’s representation. Finally, the hope is also to show industry-level best practices as case studies to allow the larger ecosystem to learn from the tips and tricks that resource constrained startups across stages are already successfully implementing.

To us, WISER is just the start of the conversation on women’s workforce participation and we look forward to working with the startup ecosystem to take action and create lasting impACT!

ACT Implementers Network: Bringing private innovations to public healthcare

In September 2022, ACT For Health conducted a Needs Assessment study with medical professionals to understand their perspective on the healthcare innovations landscape. This study helped us identify and understand the broad categories of challenges faced by healthcare providers and assess where technology-based innovation can potentially play a role in improving healthcare delivery systems. A key insight that emerged for us was that the most critical need is to strengthen primary care centres with high-quality screening and diagnostic facilities along and to build the capacity of general physicians. This is how the idea of the ACT Implementers Network was born.

With 13 partners on board – eGov Foundation, Transforming Rural India Foundation, CureBay, Last Mile Care, Ambuja Cement Foundation, Mahan Trust, iKure, Karuna Trust, Parinaam Foundation, Swasti, Dvara Health Finance, FPAI & Clinikk – the network aims to strengthen the healthcare ecosystem by matching the tech needs of such social enterprises working among underserved communities with ACT supported innovations and launching pilot projects to address identified need gaps. Such pilots are co-designed with our partners based on their needs and our goal is to demonstrate evidence-based deployment models which can be further contextualised by other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.

An example of such a pilot is the one we catalysed between ACT For Health grantee Medprime Technologies and Mahan Trust – an NGO that works in the remote Melghat district of rural Maharashtra and serves the tribal communities in the area. With 70% of the region’s mortality rate attributed to treatable infections, a key challenge that emerged was the lack of trained microscopy technicians who could enable timely diagnosis.

“Currently, local lab technicians can only prepare the sample slides, which have to be transported to a pathology lab 4 hours away in Amravati. In fact, even the onus of transporting the slides is on the patients themselves – which often results in them refusing to go because of the costs involved. Even if they do go, it takes 4-5 days for results to come in – which often delays timely diagnosis. So more often than not, patients are treated on the basis of their symptoms which may not be accurate,” says Dr. Ashish Satav, Founder – Mahan Trust.

The Mahan Trust team leveraged the ACT Implementers Network to collaborate with Medprime, who is piloting Cilika – a digital microscopy solution that allows pathologists to remotely analyse test reports for patients living in low-resourced areas without the hassle of transporting or storing the sample slides. Ever since the introduction of the Cilika device in February 2023, physical samples are no longer needed to be sent to Amravati and they are able to get 5 samples a day, which are diagnosed by the pathologist remotely from Amravati.

“Thanks to ACT providing Cilika to us free of cost, we’re able to diagnose many poor tribal patients who would otherwise have received empirical therapy. This will improve patient management and reduce morbidity and mortality. Its successful implementation in MAHAN Trust will also help develop replicable models in other tribal areas of India.” Dr. Ashish concludes.
A similar pilot that we are currently running is with the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bidar to establish their women’s cancer detection centre. ACT For Health matched their needs with Niramai and Periwinkle from its portfolio – Niramai’s affordable breast cancer screening device is portable, radiation free and non-invasive while Periwinkle’s AI-led Smartscope solution helps detect cervical cancer without the need for electricity and can be used by healthcare workers without extensive training.

Since the inauguration of the cancer detection centre in early May 2023, the FPAI team has been able to screen more than a hundred women for cervical cancer within their first month, and are slowly starting to screen for breast cancer as well.

As we explore more pilot engagements with other partners in our Implementers Network, an important learning for us has been the need to develop robust M&E frameworks and mechanisms to help measure the success of each such intervention. Simultaneously, we are also trying to engage with state governments to introduce such innovations in the public health system at scale.

Our hope is to create scalable models of interventions that use the power of technology and collaboration to improve health outcomes in our country.

If you’re a grassroots public healthcare organisation who could benefit from being a part of the ACT Implementers Network, download our Implementers Guide to know more.

What our ACT Fellowship experience was like as the very 1st cohort!

On September 15th 2022, six of us walked into Sequoia Capital’s (now Peak XV Partners) office in New Delhi for our induction into ACT’s first-ever Fellowship program. After a two day deep-dive into ACT’s journey, their venture philanthropy model and their beliefs around collective action, we immersed ourselves into our work.

And it has been one INCREDIBLE journey. Over the past nine months, we have met inspiring social entrepreneurs who are hungry to create meaningful change; learned from VCs and industry experts on what it takes to build successful organisations that can create impact at scale; played a major role in several first-ever initiatives that ACT was building and most important of all – became invested in and committed to the larger purpose of our work here.

As our Fellowship comes to an end, we wanted to give everyone who is curious about what went behind the scenes a sneak peek into our experience!

What was the common expectation that we all had from the Fellowship?

Most of us were curious to witness how the venture philanthropy model works – how the grant-making process happens from behind the scenes – since it’s such a new and innovative way of approaching social impact. This experience exceeded our expectations for sure – we saw how grant proposals are evaluated, how due diligence is conducted, what we need to look for in social entrepreneurs but most importantly, how to leverage the ACT network for support and collaborate with the ecosystem at large.

What did a typical day for us, as ACT Fellows, look like?

A very typical day involved a fair mix of conversations between external stakeholders like social entrepreneurs and inspirational founders and brainstorms with the ACT team as well as due diligence/evaluation of tech/innovation led solutions being built by such social entrepreneurs. One key function that remained standard for all of us was staying abreast of the current trends in the sector along with sourcing working models of innovations that are solving problems at a large scale – which we recommended to the ACT team for further action.

What was the most enjoyable and exciting part of working at ACT as Fellows?

Being a part of the entire grant-making process – from initiating the initial interaction to guiding potential prospects through the Investment Committee discussions for funding approval. There is simply no greater joy than helping mission-driven social entrepreneurs in their transformative journey. We also enjoyed interacting with varied stakeholders ranging from founders, VCs, scientists, NGO leaders and other ecosystem partners. Moreover, it always helps to work with a purpose-driven team who are trying to solve the big social problems in our country.

What stood out to us while interacting with passionate social entrepreneurs?

The capacity to tackle intricate challenges amidst uncertainty, coupled with the ability to maintain a long-term perspective towards present actions – it has been inspiring to see the social entrepreneurial ecosystem for Bharat and it has been our privilege to meet and work with them. Another big learning for us has been that the pathway for innovation for social entrepreneurs needs a lot of support. For an innovation to create meaningful change, there is a lot of work that still to be done to create a conducive environment for social innovators and risk-takers.

Did the Fellowship give us any leadership opportunities?

ACT is built on the principle of collaboration which means that a lot of our work involves working with a diverse set of stakeholders and aligning all of them towards a common goal. As Fellows, we were able to take a lot of ownership of our work and we did get the opportunity to lead specific project initiatives – which has been a game changer.

What is one skill that we Fellows definitely gained during the Fellowship?

By evaluating tech solutions through primary and secondary research, we definitely picked up extensive industry knowledge and learnings, which are vital for any development professional. We also became more confident in our approach when dealing with senior experts (because we did so quite a lot!) and learnt the value of going into conversations well prepared. As we got to lead initiatives and work independently, we learnt to take risks, make course corrections, and grow through failures.

What was one new learning about the social impact sector after coming to ACT?

The complex nature of creating impact at scale requires one to be on top of their game and to be updated with the latest industry trends. For example, AI is revolutionising everything – this is exciting but also challenging and there’s something new to learn every day. Another key insight we’ve had is that inherent collaboration within the space and cross-learning among individuals is much needed and can lead to newer possibilities.

What is our understanding of the team culture at ACT?

Agility and a bias for action are fundamental tenets of the ACT culture. We say this because everyone is very action-oriented and always trying to leverage their networks to make progress. We have inherited this culture to keep things moving and are going forward with a keen emphasis on swift action and decision-making.

What are some attributes that we feel every Fellow should definitely have?

Fellows should be excited to take responsibility, curious to learn, and be ready to fail and grow through it.

How has our experience as ACT Fellows influenced our long-term career goals and aspirations?

At ACT, we’ve all experienced what the power of collective action could do. We will always look out for ways where aspects of collaboration and cross-learning can be incorporated. Our journey as Fellows has leveraged our common curiosity to know more about venture philanthropy and development financing, solidified our knowledge of the space and fuelled our interest to work deeper in the impact space.

While we may have concluded our Fellowship, we’ll always be a part of the ACT collective and will continue supporting the organisation. We all plan to continue working in the social development space in some way, shape or form while keeping impact at the centre of what we do.

Would we recommend the ACT Fellowship to young change-makers?

In short, YES! It is very different from other Fellowships and exposes you to how tech and innovation can create large-scale impact and how YOU can contribute to it. If you’re an aspiring social entrepreneur or someone who is keen to understand unique models of funding development, this is the place for you!

A note for the readers: all the responses are a culmination of the experiences of all Fellows. If you’d like to understand more, feel free to reach out to us on LinkedIn!

ACT For Environment welcomes Indra Water to its portfolio

Over 600 million people in India already deal with extreme water stress, and the country is moving towards becoming a water-scarce nation by 2030. This is exacerbated by the fact that over 74% of water in India is untreated, leading to almost 40 million litres of wastewater entering rivers and water bodies every day.

Indra Water has developed a decentralised point-of-source wastewater treatment system that has the potential to revolutionise the wastewater treatment industry. Founded in 2018 by two engineers, their patented and electrically-driven modular system is designed to treat water in a decentralised manner at the point of source, thus making it an ideal solution for both domestic and industrial water treatment. The company’s innovative design approach, which includes a structural flash reactor, enables the treatment of multiple types of wastewater, faster treatment time, higher throughput, reduced energy consumption, and lower overall treatment cost. Their enhanced water treatment efficiency would help reduce both freshwater extraction as well as the discharge of untreated water into our lakes, rivers, and water bodies.

With a mission to address the critical problem of hard-to-treat forever chemicals and promote wastewater circularity, one of the key advantages of Indra Water’s system is its modularity, which allows it to be 4x smaller, 30% lower in capex, and 40% lower in opex as compared to conventional chemical and biological wastewater treatment solutions. This makes it ideal for small and medium-sized businesses that cannot afford to invest in expensive wastewater treatment solutions. Apart from its cost-effectiveness, their system is also aligned with the government’s zero liquid discharge (ZLD) norms and adheres to the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) guidelines.

Since its inception, Indra Water has already made a significant environmental impact, reducing 3200 tons of sludge, saving over 500 tons of GHG emissions, and preventing over 750 million litres of wastewater from entering freshwater streams. They have already successfully deployed its system for clients like Grasim (Aditya Birla Group) in Gujarat and Unilever in Indonesia with a total treatment capacity of 2.2 million litres per day, proving its effectiveness in commercial and industrial water treatment.

With support from ACT For Environment, Indra Water’s decentralised wastewater treatment system has the potential to treat approximately 7 billion litres of wastewater in the next six years and revolutionise the wastewater treatment industry in India!

ACT Capital Foundation For Social Impact is a not-for-profit company incorporated and registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013. All donations made to ACT Capital Foundation are eligible for income tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act.

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