May 18, 2023

ACT Summit 2023: Leveraging the power of collective action to catalyse social impact at scale

We hosted the first edition of the ACT Summit in New Delhi, where a diverse set of stakeholders deliberated upon how technology, innovation and collaboration can help India address some of its most complex social issues across public healthcare, gender, education and environment.

Over 150 participants, including social entrepreneurs, impact investors, CSR professionals and sector experts, agreed that technology, data and platforms, when backed by patient and purpose-driven capital, can create sustainable social impact that can reach billions of people.

The day-long Summit featured multiple sessions designed to encourage dialogue, knowledge sharing, and collaboration among participants, some of whom included Ashish Dhawan (The Convergence Foundation), Rizwan Koita (Koita Foundation), Sandeep Singhal (Nexus Venture Partners), Mohit Bhatnagar (Sequoia Capital), Abhiraj Bhal (Co-Founder, Urban Company), Prachi Windlass (Michael & Susan Dell Foundation), Lathika Pai (Microsoft VC & PE), Supriya Paul (Josh Talks), Divya Jain (Seekho), Naghma Mulla (EdelGive Foundation), Aditya Shankar (Doubtnut), Mekin Maheshwari (Udhyam Learning Foundation), Mahesh Yagnaraman (Acumen), Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja (Central Square Foundation), Suman Gopalan (Freshworks) and Vishal Thakur (Nasscom Foundation), among others.

Across participants, a resounding theme that emerged was that the persistence of social entrepreneurs accompanied by committed capital and the use of technology could pave the way for sustainable social change. Investing in capacity building at an organizational level, challenging conventional wisdom with regards to funding and forming strategic Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) are critical steps required to accelerate the deployment of homegrown innovations and give rise to India’s next generation of social unicorns.

Key Insights

• Social entrepreneurs are an important part of the social change value chain, given their agility, bias for action and focus on innovation. But that ability to create change can become exponential through collective action. There are lots of deep-rooted beliefs in India’s social sector and they won’t change in our lifetime if we take only the traditional routes of change. When we bring innovation, challenge conventional wisdom and collaborate with each other, it can be a powerful catalyst for change.
• Technology has immense potential to achieve scale for social impact; it is the only thing that will help us reach millions and billions. But it needs both patient capital and impatient social entrepreneurs to drive it forward. Having a strong mix of traditional as well as impact investors can bring the required amount of capital to enable technology to deliver meaningful social outcomes.
• The integration of generative AI into ed-tech is one of the more recent global developments. But while it presents multiple possibilities for the growth of quality, affordable ed-tech, tailoring solutions to the individual and socio-linguistic needs of students is the need of the hour. A robust Open Digital Learning infrastructure can power diverse use cases, translation, and multilingual transliteration.
• Peer-to-peer learning between social entrepreneurs building solutions for climate action and healthcare as well as funders supporting them is imperative, since there are many intersectionalities between the two domains – such collaboration can have exponential outcomes and foster more innovation. It is imperative for stakeholders to : a) align on what success or impact would mean for them, b) facilitate peer-to-peer collaboration to improve outcomes, c) take a long-term approach towards funding and technology development.
• Increasing India’s Female Labour Force Participation can be made possible only if gaps in the existing data collection landscape are addressed. Currently, data on 80% of SDG indicators on gender don’t have any sources and while gender-related data is collected in the private sector, it is not published or used. The availability of exhaustive and pertinent data can drive informed decision-making and higher levels of accountability. The presence of granular meta-data will inform the policy-making process as well.
• Continued dialogue between social entrepreneurs and funders as well as the harnessing of patient capital are important to de-risk investments that are critical for bolstering R&D in healthcare solutions. There is also scope for philanthropy to help address the existing gaps in the healthcare value chain, like diagnostic care.
• The time is ripe for India to build more Digital Public Goods due to the rapid adoption of sophisticated open-source technology.
• The role of first generation startup founders is critical to reshape the ‘giving culture’ in India into something that goes beyond just funding and can truly help build the nation. Since most such founders have just begun their philanthropic journeys, it’ll be valuable for them to build their vision of a shared purpose by exploring collaboration avenues with the public sector; such pathways can potentially flow both ways.

The Summit also catalysed purposeful 1:1 conversations between promising social entrepreneurs within the ACT portfolio and funders looking to connect with founders building impactful tech-led solutions.

That every individual can be a co-founder of social change was the resounding message in each of the sessions and for Team ACT, the Summit’s big highlight was the meeting of many minds and ideas across such a diverse set of stakeholders. We’re inspired by all the areas of collaboration that have emerged and look forward to building these pathways further in our quest to catalyse meaningful change for Bharat!

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