Mid-Year Update

Field Trip

It has been nearly six months since I moved to India for the IDEX Fellowship in Social Enterprise. Since then, I’ve been serving in a consulting role to an affordable private school (APS). My foremost goals have been to design and implement sustainable programs for the school, and to gain a better overall understanding of the challenges in low-income communities and the social enterprise market in India. So, what have I been working on here?

India's Independence Day

I’ve spent significant time just settling in to India and observing how my school works. I wrote this post on my first impressions of APS. I sat in on classes, spoke with teachers, students, parents, and administration. And I read a lot about innovations in education, low-income education, and social enterprise in India. My fellowship provided us with speaker sessions about social enterprise and trainings from organizations like J-PAL on impact assessment and theory of change.

One major challenge I’ve faced is that I’ve jumped a bit from project idea to project idea. Some of my initial concepts for projects–such as a school expansion for a playground and an assessment of APS through surveying alumni–weren’t feasible given financial, time, and resource constraints. Other ideas either didn’t make sense for the school or for my goals here, or partnerships fell through. The initial observation phase was vital in coming up with project ideas, but I continue to learn new things about how my school and the local community functions all the time which changes the feasibility of projects or what projects I want to focus on. And many hurdles weren’t realized until plans for implementation were put in place.

Career TrainingI did implement a number of small-scale projects, such as Design for Change and coordinating a health camp and a career training. As a secondary assignment for my Fellowship, I’ve also become a contributing writer for the great team at

Right now, I’m focusing on several priority projects for the remainder of my fellowship.

One project is a very exciting mobile phones pilot with two major education and education technology companies in India. The pilot will test students on a subject weekly and provide performance feedback to parents and teachers. But the novel component is that the program will be used on mobile phones that the families already own for a very minimal cost (no hand-outs of expensive new technology), and it’s a brand new pilot. We’ve held initial meetings with the two pilot schools, parents, and students, and plan to launch at the end of January.

Previously, I wrote about my interest in learning more about India’s unbanked, and how that might improve school fees payment. I’m still very interested in this concept, but have found it difficult to identify and secure partner organizations for a savings and/or financial education program, with school resource constraints and lack of local partners being major impediments. With my fellowship working group, we’re still in the process of trying to build a partnership between a financial education program and APS in Hyderabad.

Another major focus is my work for a forthcoming report on educational tablets and technology in low-income schools in India. This report is based on a tablets pilot at APS in Hyderabad and field research we conducted. The report will provide a lot of new insights into the market of low-income educational technology users in India.

I’m also hoping to help my school purchase and install internet access for their computer lab, after which I will train teachers and students on how to use and take advantage of the endless resources for education on the internet. I’ve also worked on a test-taking and study skills lesson plan for teachers and students, since such skills as multiple choice strategy aren’t taught at these schools, yet passing 10th class state exams is vital for every student.

IDEX Fellowship

This doesn’t nearly encompass the many things I’ve learned, tried, implemented, or thought about during my first six months here, but it’s an overview of my work thus far. I have three more months to implement and wrap up my key projects before the end of my fellowship. Overall, this experience has been invaluable in allowing me to have an entrepreneurial experience in a developing economy, to spend significant time researching and learning, and to better understand the roadblocks in designing and implementing social enterprise projects in India.

My thoughts on the affordable private schools model are being reserved for a future post.

Bombay Connect: Creating Space for Social Innovators (

My article for

On the top floor of a modest building on a quiet street in Bandra, Mumbai, you’ll find a colorful and cozy office space. Inside, you’ll see bookshelves with an eclectic library collection and in between sunny windows, you’ll find pictures and colored post–its taped to brick walls. On one side of the post-its wall, people list support they need—graphic designers, new team members. On the other side, people list support they can provide—editing, business plan feedback. On any given day in the office, about 30 individuals can be found working on laptops at shared desks or holding meetings in one of the meeting rooms, all busy launching and developing business models to promote social change in India.

Co-working is a growing phenomenon that has doubled every year since 2006, with an estimated2,150 co-working spaces worldwide. India’s co-working scene is still nascent, but one of the most popular spaces is the aforementioned office in Mumbai—Bombay Connect, a co-working space for social innovators. It was founded three years ago under UnLtd India, an incubator for early-stage social entrepreneurs. UnLtd India started their incubation model with the intention of creating a complete support ecosystem for social enterprise in India, which is where Bombay Connect plays an integral role.



Bombay Connect works on a membership model, and benefits include access to working space and events. The office co-working space includes desks, wireless internet access, a library, kitchenette, and conference and meeting rooms. Bombay Connect also hosts one to two events each week, including clinics on marketing, HR, finance, and fundraising. Fostering a strong sense of community among its members is of the essence to Bombay Connect, which hosts regular networking events such as music shows, pottery-making, cooking courses, and movie screenings. They also host monthly Dabba Chats, which are member-led meetings for peers to share ideas and solutions to problems such as sanitation, education, and technology. Events are open to both members and non-members to introduce non-members to the space and encourage new and different perspectives.

“I’m very happy with the ecosystem we’ve created. We’ve seen connections happen,” says Preeti Dawane, who oversees membership engagement and outreach activities at Bombay Connect. “I like the environment here—it’s easy-going and everyone is really helpful and easy to approach,” noted a new Bombay Connect member, who recently moved back to Mumbai to work on a marketing start-up and a NGO after living in the United States. “It’s a great platform to get to network with people who are very forthcoming in sharing ideas and insights.”

Bombay Connect has gradually grown in membership and now has over 50 members. Membership ranges from 1250 to 7200 rupees per month, depending on the number of hours a member works in the space. Approximately 90 percent of members work in social enterprise and 10 percent work with mainstream business. “We like to include mainstream entrepreneurs because they come with fresh ideas and energy, so that social entrepreneurs will benefit from their perspective,” says Dawane.


While co-working spaces have taken off in other countries, there are few co-working spaces in India. One reason, Dawane explains, is that entrepreneurs looking to keep low budgets will use their wireless connection from their home for work. Distance and travel time, especially considering Mumbai’s slow and unpredictable traffic, are also factors. Nonetheless, Dawane has seen a continued rise in membership, noting that “a lot is changing because of the benefits from co-working.”

Bombay Connect’s model enables India’s social entrepreneurs to pursue their ventures at lower start-up costs and foster synergies with other social enterprises. In the past three years, Bombay Connect has already seen its members thrive. “It’s great to see how members have grown out of the space when their team is big enough for them to move out. If they manage to grow out of the space and have their own office, and have their ideas take off, that’s part of the impact that we are having in the social space,” says Dawane. Bombay Connect eventually aims to move into a bigger office space and add different locations throughout the city, and throughout India, so that social entrepreneurs across the country can develop their ventures and collaborate in a Bombay Connect space.

Learn how to become a Bombay Connect member or attend an event here.

Bombay Connect: Creating Space for Social Innovators (

GoodWeave’s Market-based Solution to End Child Labour in India’s Carpet-Weaving Industry

My article on GoodWeave for 

When you purchase a new rug for your home, do you ask yourself who made it and under what conditions they work? With an estimated 250,000 child laborers currently trapped in South Asia’s robust carpet-weaving industry and adult workers also facing daily health and labor rights challenges, this is something that every socially mindful person should know.

One of India’s untold stories is that pockets of slavery still exist throughout the country, in the form of child labor. UNICEF estimates that 12% of children in India between ages 5 and 14 are exploited in child labor activities. According to some estimates, India has nearly 60 million child laborers, despite having 65 million jobless adults. GoodWeave, a business-NGO hybrid founded in India in 1994, creates a market incentive for the carpet-weaving industry to end its practice of child labor.

GoodWeave certifies rugs as child-labor-free and provides rehabilitation and educational opportunities for children rescued from carpet manufacturers. Now working in India, Nepal, and Afghanistan, it has sold more than 7.5 million certified carpets in Europe and North America, while decreasing the estimated number of children working in the carpet industry in South Asia from 1 million to 250,000. Rug exporters and importers sign a legally binding contract adhering to several standards including child-free labor, and agreeing to unannounced inspections. GoodWeave generates 20% of its income from licensing fees that exporters and importers pay to support GoodWeave’s monitoring and educational programs.

If a child laborer is found during a GoodWeave inspection, the rug manufacturer loses its certification and the child is immediately removed from the factory, returned to their family, and provided opportunities for education through local rehabilitation and education partners. To ensure that rescued children stay out of work and receive an education, GoodWeave provides monthly payments to the families, only released after assessing school records and regular check-ins.

India’s laws regarding child labor and education are becoming stricter, which assists GoodWeave in its mission. Along with the passage of the Right to Education Act—which guarantees free education to every child under 14—a new amendment to the Child Labour Act 1986 would ban employment of children under the age of 14. The current law only bans child labor below age 14 for “non-hazardous” work.

“One of harder things to look at is incidence of child labor and how that’s changing over time,” explains GoodWeave Executive Director Nina Smith, who won the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2005. As a market-driven model, GoodWeave assesses their impact with data from both the marketplace and the field. “Our theory is, as there is more market acceptance and as we gain market share [in the amount of certified carpets] and reach more communities, child labor is deterred and more victims are reached,” says Smith.
As the business environment has evolved, there has been increased consumer awareness around sustainability, and interest from bigger corporate buyers that face issues of compliance beyond child labor, explains Smith. GoodWeave recently revised its certification standards to address a range of factors affecting the carpet industry in South Asia including labor rights and environmental issues. Developing the new holistic standards was a complex, stakeholder inclusive process completed over three years. The revision fulfills GoodWeave’s founding charter’s goal to keep no-child-labor as the central focus while also addressing sustainability, health, and workers rights issues affecting the industry.

When it comes to addressing the global issue of child labor, Smith explains that there’s a need for individual, government, and business action, and education for the next generation. Smith argues that consumers have a major role to play in thinking about everything they buy, from GoodWeave certified carpets to local agriculture products (child labor is also a big problem in the agriculture industry). Consumers also need to ask questions and advocate for change at the business level. “When you go to buy a product, ask questions,” says Smith. “Be more active at the point of purchase and understand where products come from, and make sure that people on the sales floor know where their products are sourced.”

The historical trend has been that market-based models result in the systematic exploitation of children. What’s innovative about GoodWeave’s solution is that they enter the market from the same angle, but do so to end the problem instead of fueling it.

Learn more about GoodWeave’s work and resources here.

GoodWeave’s Market-based Solution to End Child Labour in India’s Carpet-Weaving Industry

“But India’s social enterprises are struggling to scale, communicate, and share their ideas, and they still lack support from the country’s leading businesses. Social enterprise in India remains a messy, unregulated, chaotic venture. India’s social space has been defined by thousands of community-based nonprofits that lack the capital to become regional or national catalysts for change.”

From How to Upgrade India’s Social Enterprise Ecosystem ( The article points to the ever increasing need for collaboration and capacity building. I am looking forward to spending time in the social enterprise space in India working on these issues.

How Can You Innovate To Achieve Inclusive Growth? from Innosight

Watch how Innosight collaborated with Godrej and Boyce to create Chotukool, a disruptive innovation aimed at meeting the daily food and beverage cooling needs of the 80% of the developing world’s population that lacks refrigerators. Chotukool has been named a finalist for the 2012 Edison Awards nominated in the Social Impact category.