I am the founder/president of Asia Initiatives, and an adjunct professor of architecture and urban design at Columbia University. My passion and belief in the power of social capital comes from my work on development projects in 11 countries over the past 20 years. This is why I innovated Social Capital Credits (SoCCs), a virtual currency for social good in use in India, Ghana, Kenya and the USA to alleviate poverty. This year the Fast Company recognized SoCCs as a “World Changing Idea”.
I am also a co-founder of “URBZ: User Generated Cities”, a think tank that works with communities in slums of Mumbai.
I serve on the New York City Mayor’s Waterfront Advisory Board, and executive boards of WomenStrong International, Center for the Living City, and Friends of University of Tokyo. I have been recognized as one of the 21 Leaders of the 21st Century by Women’s eNews.
SoCCs for Crowdsourcing Goodness
One-line project summary:
Leveraging social capital and technology to empower communities with education, up-skilling, healthcare and a healthy environment.
Present your project.
Poverty today is money poverty, but it can be solved by leveraging Social Capital, our other wealth. This has not been done before because Social Capital has been hard to measure. We operationalize this wealth with Social Capital Credits (SoCCs), our community currency for social good. SoCCs are minted by helping one’s community, and redeemed for education, up-skilling, healthcare and more. SoCCratic dialogues help communities articulate local issues and crowd-source local creativity for solving them, and the creation of SoCC Earning and Redeeming menus. For every 5 iSoCCs, 1 CommSoCCs goes into the community pool for bigger projects. SoCCstars can get grants to start micro enterprises. Our SoCC App and Platform use persuasive technology for behavior change. SoCCs enable people to help build their social capital and happiness.
“It's amazing to learn of your innovative work in Kumasi, Ghana on SoCCs. A real breakthrough”- Jeffrey Sachs, world renowned economist.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
Asia Initiatives works with the poorest communities in India, Ghana, Kenya and USA that lack the education, healthcare and resources needed to climb out of poverty. With automation and technology increasingly reducing the number of unskilled jobs even in developing countries while the youth demographic is bulging, there is a limited window of time to get people out of poverty and enable them to climb the job ladders of the future. Governments alone cannot do this, so we are starting a grassroots movement to empower communities.
We focus especially on the empowerment of women and girls. Basic human rights, including right to work and reproductive rights are often denied to women in developing countries, even though the law may promise them. Women in India represent 29 percent of the labour force, down from 35 percent in 2004. Very poor women also have no opportunities to come together to discuss common problems and build their social capital. We bring them into Self Help Groups (SHG) to facilitate livelihoods through SoCCs.
Technology can be a big leveler in providing education, healthcare and measuring social capital, but poor communities lack access to it. We address that with computer networked knowledge centers and SoCCs.
What is your project?
We have developed SoCCs (Social Capital Credit) to crowdsource development. SoCCs make social capital measurable, and tradable. SoCCs are hyper local and demand driven, hence adaptable to every geography and socio-economic context. We define Social Capital as a community’s propensity to come together to solve shared problems.
SoCCs are currently being used in projects as diverse as micro credit and skills for livelihoods in Kenya and India, education and healthcare in urban slums in Ghana and India, and agricultural improvement, tree planting and rain water harvesting projects in remote villages in India. Since local communities manage their own SoCC projects with the help of trained SoCC managers and our team, each project has its own trajectory, with the end-goal of enhancing local capacities to make projects self-sustaining as a local currency.
We work in a closed loop process with information and knowledge flowing from “land to lab, and lab to land”. For this reason we have been very agile and flexible in dealing with the many health, climate and market shocks to our communities, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and Covid19 that have required quick action. We also bring cutting edge technologies through our Knowledge Centers to the communities towards this goal.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
Our project serves the poorest communities in urban as well as rural areas.
For example, our 2000 girls in slums of Lucknow, India, are expected to help with household chores or care for younger siblings instead of pursuing an education. We help girls stay and succeed in school. Parents earn SoCCs for taking a public oath to not get their daughter married before they are 18. In our “Cascade of Learning” program, girls tutor 2 younger children to earn SoCCs, and redeem them for classes in employable skills.
Bantama market women in Kumasi, Ghana, earn SoCCs for sending daughters to school, for getting vaccinations and health checks, and for keeping the market clean, They trade their SoCCs for low interest micro credit to expand their businesses. This project is now completely managed by our local partner, and has spread to 10 markets.
Our SoCCratic dialogues help people tap into their own creativity, confidence and leadership skills to make SoCC Earning and Redeeming menus.
“During my tenure as secretary -general, I always worked to make women’s empowerment a top priority and I can see that Asia Initiatives is carrying on that legacy.” - Eighth UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
We work in urban slums and remote rural areas with communities that have been left behind. Our SoCC system uses the power of choice and market mechanisms to drive social good and poverty alleviation, while building local capacities and leadership. Our SoCC App and Platform use persuasive technology for social good, in that all the SoCC Earning and Redeeming data is analyzed, and menus tweaked to ensure that communities are achieving the goals they had set for themselves during the SoCCratic dialogues. This helps change people’s beliefs and behaviors that otherwise hinder development, and instill hope and confidence in them.
How did you come up with your project?
I co-founded Asia Initiatives in 1999 with the Gandhian principle of “Sarvodaya” or universal upliftment, peace, and harmony, and a passion to help end extreme poverty. Our programs have included micro-credit programs, environmental remediation and education/up-skilling in India, Ghana, Kenya, and the United States. All our projects are pro-poor, pro-women, and pro-environment. After working with communities for 15 years, I was convinced that the social capital of poor people, especially women, which helps them survive and thrive despite odds, was not being recognized and leveraged for “Development with Dignity”. That is why I developed Social capital credits (SoCCs), the community currency for social good that is proving to be a game-changer for ending poverty. In 2019 alone it enabled 23,000 people to improve their incomes and wellbeing through SoCCs. Participants earn SoCCs for performing acts of social good to help their community (sending girls to school, tutoring children, planting trees, learning new agriculture techniques, rejuvenating rivers etc.) SoCCs are redeemed for resources that help people lift themselves out of poverty such as low interest microcredit and up-skilling.
We received the MIT Inclusive Innovation Regional Award in 2019, and also have consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Why are you passionate about your project?
18 years ago I returned to a slum in Chennai and looked for Meena, a young girl I had become fond of in one of our projects. Meena was good at her studies, had already been selected to play soccer for her state, and had ambitions to play for the national juniors team. However, I was told that she had been married off at age 15, and had recently died in childbirth. Although I was born and raised in India and understood the devastating effects of poverty, this shook me up like never before, and I promised myself to fight poverty and gender discrimination as hard as I can.
I have worked in nine developing countries in Asia, Africa and S. America, which has made clear to me the imbalance between financial, social and ecological capital around the world today. Too much in our lives are being measured in terms of money alone, to the detriment of environmental and social capital, resulting in extreme inequality, poverty, social injustice, and bringing our planet to the edge of irreversible damage.
This has led me to develop SoCCs as an alternative usable around the world, to economies based upon money or greed alone.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
SoCCs is not just my project, but a movement that challenges economies based upon financial capital alone. I am an architect/urban designer by training, which has equipped me to think in a synthetic manner, bringing together various interlocking systems and financial constructs that keep poor people from getting out of poverty, and age old prejudices that hinder development, particularly of women.
Asia Initiatives, the organization that I co-founded is starting this movement to help communities and governments rethink how they can cooperate in working towards a more just and sustainable world. I have also seeded and inspired other other NGOs started by my former students, staff and friends towards this goal. People who have been with me on this journey keep coming back to Asia Initiatives, and some of the 50 active volunteers who support our staff have been with me for over 15 years.
I have also made concepts of social capital and social justice central to my teaching at Columbia University in New York, and in Japan. I have lectured around the world on the importance of social capital, women's rights, and responsible urban design, including at UN forums. I advise the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in India, and the Mayor of New York. I have also served as an advisor to the Millennium Cities project at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
I am also currently working on a book entitled “Building Social Capital by Design”, which will be published by Columbia University in 2021.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
Asia Initiatives is turning the Covid19 crisis in India into an opportunity to kickstart Resilience Projects in many of our project sites, providing work to hundreds of daily wage women and men migrants who have lost their jobs in the city and returned to their villages without means to support themselves. These projects include pond and dam de-silting, building agricultural bunds and rainwater harvesting trenches in the drought prone areas of Bundelkhand and Maharashtra. Through SoCCs, we are also supporting kitchen gardens and micro poultry and goat farms in Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. The goal is to help build long term-food and water security along with social and ecological capital.
To counter the fact that schools and our Knowledge Centers are still closed due to COVID19, we have scaled up our SoCC Buddy program exponentially to provide online education to students in our projects. Our partner staff are heroically bringing laptops or smartphones and dongles to the homes of as many girls as they can for a few hours each time in rotation, serving those whose families do not have smart devices.
Asia Initiatives is known for providing timely help, ideas and resources to our partners for such emergencies.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
I have run Asia Initiatives for 20 years now, leading every aspect of its work and building a strong team. Staff and interns who move onto other cities or jobs stay engaged with Asia Initiatives as volunteers or advisors years after they leave- affirming my efforts towards people-centric leadership.
I teach a post professional studio in the urban design program at Columbia University, and my students remember me most for instilling in them a sense of social responsibility. I have led projects in 9 developing countries to bring design skills to focus on issues for the poorest communities, a focus I have introduced to our school. I identify projects, and meet with local governments, communities, NGOs and universities to define project parameters beforehand. I lead student groups to these sites and then help bring the studio work back to the local partners for their use. Asia Initiatives has followed some of this studio work by implementing projects in Ghana and Kenya.
I have served in leadership roles in nearly all the organizations I have connected with, including as a scout master when my children were young, and as president of the American Institute of Japan when I lived in Tokyo.
How long have you been working on your project?
Our org is 20 years old, but SoCCs is 5 years old
Where are you headquartered?New York, NY, USA
What type of organization is your project?Nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
SoCCs is the first system of its kind to make social capital measurable and tradable. SoCCs disrupt the inequalities of education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities that keep poor people from climbing up the economic ladder.
SoCC methodology is hyper local and demand driven, hence adaptable to every geography and socio-economic context. We crowdsource local creativity and enthusiasm. This ensures respect for the local knowledge, culture, leadership, and sustainability of the projects.
Asia Initiatives is particularly focused on empowering women. Through SoCCs we help provide girls' education, adult education, financial literacy, and very low interest loans to start small businesses. SoCCstars can also apply for grants to start or grow their businesses.
SoCCs also help communities address environmental issues such as deforestation and dropping groundwater tables by planting trees, improving agricultural practices, building rainwater harvesting trenches etc. Bringing social and ecological capital at par with financial capital is an important way to heal the social injustice and ecological damage in our world today.
Every act of social good and every SoCC redeemed is recorded through our SoCC App/Platform with the help of local SoCC Managers. This data is carefully studied to ensure that the community is making progress towards the goals people set. Periodic modifications in the Earning and Redeeming menus are undertaken as needed to ensure this. This “persuasive technology for behavior change” keeps people engaged, joyful and motivated.
But above all, we build resilience through social capital, defined as a community’s propensity to come together to solve shared problems.
What is your theory of change?
“A tribute to a good idea is how no one has thought about it before. SoCCs is the best idea I have heard since Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank umpteen years ago. You got yourself a tool. I urge you to pursue this idea” - Pedro Sanchez, World Food Prize Laureate and MacArthur Fellow
Our Theory of Change is illustrated above, and described below in text:
1. Starting points:
Social capital can be leveraged to improve financial and ecological capital
All 3 forms of capital impact each other
Livelihoods, education and healthcare are the keys out of poverty. Working on just one aspect is not enough.
All interventions should be demand driven and community lead.
Societies cannot progress unless women do. Human rights are women’s rights also. Reproductive rights for women are essential.
There not enough decent jobs available for unskilled or low skilled people, and not enough capital and mentorships available to start micro -enterprises, or ways to improve skills
The invisible work of women and girls underpins financial systems around the world, but is invisible and unpaid, impacting their position in society and resulting in gender discrimination.
3. Asia Initiatives Response:
Asia Initiatives has drawn on educational, behavioral and economic theories to develop SoCCs.
Crowdsourcing creativity and mentorship within communities through SoCCs to support creation of micro- enterprises, and the education of girls
Using technology for empowerment of communities, and for implementation of SoCCs
SoCCs methodology continues to be tested and improved in various cultural contexts.
SoCCratic Dialogues: SoCCs are hyper local. People who are closest to the problems are also closest to the solutions. Governments cannot handle development alone.
SoCC Earning and Redeeming Menus provide the power of choice and market mechanisms.
SoCCs overcomes the friction within communities for people providing goods and services for each other. Increasing the velocity of local transactions helps alleviate poverty.
Recognition of human rights of girls and women, leading to happiness and prosperity for all.
Behavior change in communities in realizing their own social capital and potential. Local leadership and capacities emerge.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
We have successfully implemented SoCCs in 18 sites in 4 countries over the past five years, serving over 50,000 people. In 2019 alone, we helped 23,000 women increase their education and income, impacting the wellbeing of their families. In the next 5 years, we plan to serve 2 million people.
Within 5 years, we expect exponential growth, since anyone who can convene 20 or more people will be able to use our SoCC App and Platform, so participants will be able to do acts of social good and redeem SoCCs thus earned for education, skill empowerment, and healthcare
Our highlights of 2019 are below:
2000 girls in Lucknow are learning computer skills, spoken English and job skills.
470 women in Shohratgarh have started micro poultry farms.
150 women in Bundelkhand have started goat rearing farms.
1002 people formed the first ever Tribal Credit Cooperative in Maharashtra, with women's majority.
We have set up bicycle banks for 600 women and girls in villages in Maharashtra to enable girls to get to school. Girls teach younger children to earn SoCCs for school fees and the use of bicycles.
500 farmers in villages in Maharashtra were helped in getting access to government services including insurance
540 farmers switched to organic farming, and doubled their income.
17,000 trees were planted in the Doon Valley by school children
50 women in our Zuri program in Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya have become saleswomen for organic cosmetics. SoCCs are earned for helping older people in the community.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goals for next year are:
- To have 100,000 registered users on our SoCC App/Platform who are helping their communities and themselves.
- To explore Blockchain and other technologies to service a much larger number of users
- To partner with governments, NGOs and B-Corps around the world with our CorpSoCCs+ model to help measure and reward acts of local good by their employees and populations, with AI serving as a consultant. Our selling point is that SoCCs multiply the impact of every development dollar, and our process is completely transparent.
Our next five year goals are:
- To have over 2 million registered users on our SoCC App/Platform, with a considerable number who have increased their education, wellbeing and income.
- To have integrated new technologies to enable anyone anywhere to implement SoCCs easily and effectively.
- To have at least 2 government clients, to scale our impact.
- To have at least 10 corporations using our CorpSoCCs+ model.
- To have launched a facility on our Platform where SoCC users from around the world can post their solutions to local problems, and learn from each other.
- To create a system where every child turning 18 is given a “SoCC Opportunity Account”, with enough SoCCs to start adult life with dignity.
- To contribute to the campaign for “Stakeholder Capitalism” so that all big companies and public projects are required to report triple bottom line accounting, including their social, ecological and financial capital results.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
While Covid-19 has disrupted our goals for this and the next year, we are also seeing it as an opportunity to get as many people as possible engaged in helping others in need. We have also started many projects to build long term resilience in communities where many landless laborers regularly migrate to cities in search of work from the drought prone areas we work in, so that they may have work opportunities without migrating.
Besides Covid19, our barriers include the following:
Our SoCC App/Platform and methodology are open-source and free to communities, and provided as a consulting service to corporations for CSR projects. For this reason we need to ramp up the deployment of our CorpSoCCs+ product to increase our revenue stream. We view this as critical for sustainability going forward.
While we have developed online training modules in use of our SoCC App and Platform, the capabilities of our SoCC Managers and users, particularly in rural and tribal areas, warrant more sustained training, and training modules need to be translated into many languages.
We also need to increase our outreach through advertising and other means to let more people know about using SoCCs for improving their livelihoods, education and healthcare.
While we do need to hire additional staff as soon as possible, we are constrained by financial resources that can enable us to identify such people, contract with them, and deploy them as soon as possible in the field.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
Our response to our immediate and long term barriers are below:
- Covid Response: Since people in our projects are among the most affected by the pandemic, we are using our reserves to help them by hiring hundreds of migrant women and men who have lost their daily wage jobs into our Resilience Projects, to reduce their need to migrate in the future. Since schools and our Knowledge Centers are still closed, we have scaled up our SoCC Buddy program exponentially to provide online education support to the students.
- We have begun to talk to corporations who have supported us in the past to deploy our CorpSoCCs+ product and are learning from the questions they are asking us to refine our product and sales pitch.
- We are looking for partnerships that can help us develop local SoCC Manager training modules in many languages.
- Since we do not have funds for outreach and advertising, so are looking for speaking opportunities and for print and social media to write about our work.
- Since we cannot afford to hire more people, we have been very lucky in finding very capable staff who are working with us at a much lower salary than they can get elsewhere, as well as many good interns and about 50 volunteers.
"AI's concept of SoCCs could unleash a transformative pathway away from the current social welfare and demeaning social welfare models"- Ambassador Mamphela Ramphele, South African politician, medical doctor and academic
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We strongly believe in the power of partnerships and collaborative work. Our consulting clients and current partners are identified below:
Women Strong International (WSI) (Implementing the SoCC system in Kumasi (Ghana), Kisumu (Kenya), and Washington DC (USA). We are consultants to the State Government of Andhra Pradesh, India for their Happy City Project.
M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation (20 years of partnership for supporting 37 Village knowledge Centers in remote villages + other SoCc projects)
Deendayal Bahuuddeshiya Prasarak Mandal (Agriculture and water harvesting projects, Digital literacy project. Online education support and mentoring through SoCCS Buddies program started recently.)
Shohratgarh Environmental Society (Support for formal and informal education for girls.)
Shramjivi Janata Sahayyak Mandal (Support for over 1000 people to establish a tribal credit cooperative)
SEWA Bharat (Support for women artisans, and adult literacy)
Centre for Development, Ahmedabad (Established Girls Resource Center with computers for girls from seven slum areas.)
VIEWS India- (Digital literacy project . Online education support and mentoring through SoCCS Buddies program recently started)
Hour Working Women Program, New York (Recently started SoCCS Buddies program to help women learn computer skills (beginner and advanced), get math and ESL help to pass high school equivalency exam.)
"I am glad to see that all your work is pro-women, pro-poor and pro-environment. This is the real key to sustainable development"- Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, Renowned agricultural scientist, recipient of the World Food Prize, and the inspiration behind the founding of Asia Initiatives and Chair on MSSRF, our partner
What is your business model?
Our business model is based on people determining what their critical needs are, and what they are personally willing to do to meet those needs. SoCCs by its very nature is locally-driven, and measures each action. SoCCratic dialogues enable communities to articulate their needs, the skills and assets they have, and what is needed to complement those assets. This helps design SoCC earning and redeeming menus. For every 5 individual SoCCs (iSoCCs) earned by any one, 1 goes into the Community SoCCs (CommSoCCs) pool, and can help build micro infrastructure as decided by the community. iSoCC can also be traded for low interest micro-loans and training to start small enterprises. SoCCstars can also apply for grants funded by our donors to start small businesses.
SoCCs is a participatory process, with technology being used to track progress at each level and to set goals for the next one.
As a result of this business model, we find that livelihoods, education, up-skilling, and basic infrastructure needs are what people want the most. We fund the redeeming menus and our own work through our consulting revenue, private and corporate donations, and grants from foundations. Once SoCCs begin to be exchanged as a community currency, the need for outside help reduces. We also try to find local Corporate Social Responsibility funds for our communities. At other times, interest income from micro revolving loans help fund projects. Once the project is self-sustaining, we continue only in an advisory role, as has been in Kumasi, Ghana.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Our model for financial sustainability comprises the following revenue streams:
Individual support from donors
Consulting work: We are looking to expand this with SoCCs+ model for NGOs and governments; and Corp SoCCs models for corporate social responsibility
We have three versions of SoCCs. The basic version is free to any community around the world wanting to come together to improve their education, skills and economic situation. This version will be available in several languages. The SoCCs+ and Corp SoCCs versions are fee based, for which Asia Initiatives provides a full range of services, from conducting SoCCratic dialogues, creating and managing menus, managing SoCCs data analytics to improve programs. In a consulting role, we have successfully implemented the SoCCs+ strategy for our clients WomenStrong International in Ghana and Kenya since 2015-, and are currently providing fee based SoCCs consulting to the Government of Andhra Pradesh, India, for the new capital of Amaravati that they are developing.
Corp SoCCs is the third product we are planning to market to corporations. This will enable corporations to incentivize acts of local social good by their employees, and track them through the SoCCs App and platform. This will be a paid service. Since large corporations in India are legally required to give 2% of their profits for Corporate Social Responsibility, we have been working with corporations such as Oxygen Inc. to provide an easy, transparent and fully accountable way to channel their giving, with a multiplier effect for every dollar spent
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
In calendar year 2019, as per our Form 990 that is available on our website, we received total contributions and grants in the amount of $ 549,946. The major donors providing grants or awards for our work were as follows: ARGA Investment Management $ 126,000; Weyerhaeuser Family Foundation $ 39,400; Steadview Capital Management $ 25,000; Arjun Mehta, $ 21,500, and MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge Regional Winner Award $ 20,000. The total Contribution and Grant amount also include the gross revenue (before expenses) at the annual fundraiser of $ 288,716. We did some consulting work related to the SoCCs concept that resulted in income of $ 6,673. Our consulting revenue has ranged from $80,000~$5,000 in different years)
Over the past 12 months, since the question appears to specifically relate to that, we raised about $ 63,750 for specific Covid relief and disbursed the same to our project partners. We expect that 2020 will be a very difficult year in terms of fund-raising. We have budgeted a deficit, expenses above revenue, of $ 218,350 and will fund this from our Board Members and our reserves if we are unable to get grant support. Since there is considerable momentum to the projects that we are supporting in the field, and our partners are counting on our support, we feel that it was important to continue our field work at the present levels and to not reduce that in any significant way.
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
In order to scale up to serve over two million people in the next five years, we estimate that we need grant support of the following:
$1,500,000 in funding for the SoCCs Redemption menu items that cannot be locally sourced through CSR. SoCCs redemption items include initial capital for micro-loans we give to our SElf-Help Groups; school, college and up-skilling course fees; health insurance; and other menu items that may be needed as decided by communities.
$ 1,500,000 in staff salaries in the field and in the United States. We anticipate to incur a substantial sum for staff salaries to get this process underway. Fortunately we also harness much social capital with our volunteers, but we will require more staff to scale up.
$300,000 in technology support. We have been fortunate to have a tech partner, Campus Groups (campusgroups.com) that has provided pro-bono services to us in building our SoCCs App and SoCCs platform. As we expand to serve 2 million customers and more, we will need to substantially budget for higher technology costs.
$250,000 for strategic marketing and media, so that we can reach out to the “unreached” people who need us most. This will need to be through traditional and non-traditional means, such as partnering with grass roots sales organizations such as “Project Shakti” of Unilever. We will also need training videos in several languages so that anyone anywhere who can convene over 20 people and is aligned with the SoCCs ethics can start a project.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Our budgeted expenses for 2020 are below:
$365,000 in funding for the SoCCs local project operations and for redemption menu items: These include school and college fees, up-skilling courses, support for Self Help Group micro-credit programs, agricultural supplies, health insurance, etc.
$40,000 in laptops and other digital devices needed in our new Knowledge and Resource Centers planned this year: This includes local rent, purchase of laptops and PC projectors, tablets, printers, generator back-up and inverters, dongles, Broadband Internet and other items needed in a lab like facilities. At present we have 16 Resource Centers, and hope to expand to 30 or more over two years.
$30,000 in technology support: We have been fortunate to have a tech partner, Campus Groups (campusgroups.com) that has provided pro-bono services to us in building our SoCC’s App and platform. As we expand further, we need to budget for these technology costs.
$ 125,000 in staff salaries and consultant fees. Fortunately, our current staff in the United States as well as in the field is working for much lower salaries than they can get elsewhere because they believe in our work. We also have very capable 30-40 volunteers who support our work.
$ 50,000 in office rent and other expenses
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
As an organization that has now proven the SoCCs model, we are now in the important position of strategizing how we make this model scalable and replicable. To do this right, we will need more mentors (such as from the distinguished group affiliated with MIT), advisors, and board members We would like to launch scale up in both developing countries and in the developed world. With the SoCCs App and Platform, our goal is to make it available to any one in the world who can convene 20 or more people.
We ideally want help with strategic planning, marketing and communications, as we expand our own vision. We want to build connections with investors and grantors and with experts in the tech field who can help us envision how our project can expand exponentially. We want to explore what other technologies may exist to help us scale up. We also need guidance on how to enhance our branding capability so that the SoCCs concept can become a household word, especially in communities that are facing the challenge of endemic poverty.
What Covid-19 has taught the world is that while developing countries are struggling with healthcare and other systems, there is also an underbelly in each society that needs help. We are currently serving a group of formerly incarcerated women in New York, and have previously worked with a group of women in the Anacostia in Washington DC. It is such groups that we can bring hope and dignity to.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
We need partnership support in three important areas:
1. To enhance our technology solution so that it is easily accessible to new users in developing and developed countries.
2. To have members from the business community review our CommSoCCs+ model to see how it can align more closely with their philanthropic objectives. This may open the door for us to work closely with corporate foundations and be eligible for CSR support.
3. To consult with marketing specialists to see how the idea of SoCCS can be disseminated widely in lower income communities in both the Global South and the Global North. We feel that we have a unique and innovative approach to social change but unless we can disseminate it widely our effectiveness as agents for such change will be limited. This is where our engagement with MIT’s Solve(Elevate) initiative can be critical to our future.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would like to partner with MIT’s Solve (Elevate) Members or MIT faculty who can provide us with an independent review of our methodology and technology, and how it can be made more user-friendly and fun for groups in various geographies around the world. We feel that we are at a breakthrough point now. The right guidance at this stage can advance our initiative dramatically.
We would also welcome guidance on blockchain or other technologies, and how they could facilitate SoCCs transactions and user interface.
We would like advice from thought leaders in the for-profit sector who can look at us from a business perspective and advise how we can scale our work. Organizations that come to mind are McKinsey Consulting, Accenture, Boston Consulting or similar groups. We feel that we would benefit from a critical business review of our work, and to advise certain strategic approaches that can help us be more effective in the future.
We would also like help from an advertising or marketing firm that can guide us on effective ways to reach the ultra poor people in remote villages or urban slums who currently do not have access to the development ladder. Some organizations that come to mind are Ogilvy, Leo Burnett BBDO, McCann, MOTTO, or Barker. We would be happy to work with any of these agencies.
We would also like legal advice to ensure that as SoCCs becomes more commonly traded, there are no conflicts with government policies regarding alternative currencies.
- Dr. Geeta Mehta Co-founder/President, Asia Initiatives