India Inc buckles up to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

“Whether to safeguard their workers or help strengthen the country’s COVID-19 response, companies across India are stepping up to strategically utilize their resources to address the here-and-now but also shoring up for the future in ways that are beneficial to both business and society.”

Samhita’s CEO & Founder, Priya Naik and Visiting Scientist at The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, Dr. Nachiket Mor, illustrate the virtuous cycle of mutual benefit that can be created between business and society, especially in times of such crisis when the chasms between the haves and have-nots are wide.

Enabling Stakeholders to Take Purposeful Action for Large-Scale Social Impact

“Beyond CSR, we believe in companies integrating social responsibility into their business practices. We have developed the Responsible Corporate Citizenship Continuum (RCCC) to articulate the role of the private sector in society and to provide companies with a framework to conceive human rights and social and environmental responsibility in their business practices as well as CSR.”

Priya Naik, Founder and CEO, Samhita Social Ventures is interviewed by CSR Mandate where she shares Samhita’s strategies and learnings over the last 10 years while collaborating with a variety of stakeholder such as companies, social enterprises, NGOs, governments, multilaterals and donors. Samhita has curated a number of collaborative platforms to address challenges such as gender inequality, water and sanitation and sustainable livelihoods, with each contributing stakeholder honing their core competencies to collectively create significant impact. In response to COVID, Samhita set up the India Protectors Alliance (IPA) to provide support and equipment to India’s frontline health care and sanitation workers, and REVIVE to pave the path for sustainable recovery of jobs and livelihoods by providing financial and technical assistance.

Solutions for a Pandemic

We can’t have everything. Firing up the economy is a priority, but so is controlling the spread of the disease. Businesses have challenges and need to be rescued, but not at the cost of our workers. Indian corporates are posed with an enormous opportunity to intervene. Corporates today stand at a crucial juncture and have a chance to serve the supply chain, implored businesses, the last producers and aid them in collectivisation, help them with technology, enhanced productivity trainings and more.

While navigating the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy, industry and society, Samhita Social Ventures and IDFC Institute co-hosted  ‘Leaders with Purpose’ — a webinar series aimed at exploring how Samaj, Sarkar and Bazaar can come together at this unprecedented time and reimagine solutions to benefit both business and the socio-economically vulnerable.


Prof. Esther Duflo, Nobel Laureate, MIT Professor and Director, J-PAL

Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman & Managing Director, Hindustan Unilever Ltd

Nisaba GodrejChairperson Godrej Consumer Products

Dr. Rukmini BanerjiCEO, Pratham

Renana JhabvalaNational Co-ordinator, SEWA

Dr. Esther Duflo said, in our first webinar,  that it is essential for government, business, and NGO stakeholders to focus on cash transfers to economically vulnerable populations to avoid entering into a “society-wide poverty trap” in India. Dr. Duflo said “this is something business should be keenly interested in and very much behind it, not just because it’s the right thing to do morally, but also because I think it is the most responsible thing to do economically…self-interested business should be very much lobbying for this cash transfer.”

“We have – both Abhijit Banerjee and I – really insisted on the need for the government to act quickly and swiftly to prevent a lot of people who are not ultra-poor but merely poor, or maybe not even poor…to avoid those people to completely collapse back in a situation where it would be much harder to get out,” Dr. Duflo said of her own and fellow Nobel laureate’s views. “That in a sense is something that would affect them personally – an individual poverty trap – but can also create society-wide poverty traps.”

Ms. Renana Jhabvala reiterated Ms. Duflo’s recommendation of DBTs (Direct Benefit Transfers) as an effective way to promote wellbeing and resilience in low-income communities, and remarked on the importance of strengthening the systems through which the funds can be accessed. SEWA’s research has shown that the poorest really benefit from regular cash transfers, not very large, that come at regular intervals, and can transform lives completely. Largest experiment in MP showed this – bottom 25% really benefited. “We went back 5 years after 1 year of cash transfers, and we found the effects were still lingering, and they were still as well of due to that one year… This has come out so clearly in this crisis – if we’d had a way to transfer a certain minimum to every person who needed it, or below a certain income level, it would make a huge huge difference in their lives.”

In lieu of the crisis, Ms. Jhabvala made an extra plea on the need of a real coordination among corporates, NGOs, and government to usher into larger benefit of the society. Other cohorts of vulnerability, the elderly, widows, single mother who can not access support all need to be identified.  “In just a few days, we reached 70,000 people because of this coordination, and if it can continue, it could make a huge difference.”

The webinar session saw all panelists collectively stressing the importance of effective multi-stakeholder collaboration and cooperation to ensure last-mile service delivery to those most at risk. Ms. Nisaba Godrej and Mr. Sanjiv Mehta remarked on the importance of business leaders considering the safety and security of workers in manufacturing and distribution networks, and working in tandem with NGOs to identify and deliver support to the most vulnerable communities.

Mr. Mehta of HUL, encouraged Indian companies and iterated HUL’s  inclusion of its networks in their circle of influence and responsibility. The safety measures implemented in HUL’s factories, have been rolled out to their entire supply chains. It also goes beyond manufacturing – HUL distributes to households, to 95% of the households across society. Mr. Mehta laid emphasis on the need to train even retailers, and highlighted HUL’s. Suraksha programme which gives them guidance on how to operate safely.

Dr. Duflo commented on the opportunity the pandemic has presented to rethink and transform India’s education system, and the importance of not rushing back to pick up curriculum where it was left off. Dr. Rukmini Banerji echoed this, saying “there should be no rush…into the curriculum; we need to spend this time to really build our foundations again…most Indian children needed this building of the basic reading, basic arithmetic – and let’s take our time to do that.” She also stressed that though schools have been closed, children have been learning a lot about how to manage crises and scarcity by watching their families and communities’ reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that adults should “need to spend time in learning from children what they have learned so that we can then build on that.”

The key takeaways of the webinar are available over here.

The full recording of the webinar is available at

For more information, please contact csr[at]

How India Inc can craft an effective response to the pandemic

Corporate India plays a critical and urgent role in mitigating the economic, and health impacts of the pandemic. Industry leaders, public health experts, experienced members of social enterprises and thought leaders such as Nobel laureate Esther Duflo came together for Samhita’s ‘Leaders with a Purpose’ webinar series, to address the need for collaborative partnerships across stakeholders. Read on to find out more about the invaluable role corporate India can play in the arena of promoting behaviour change, providing innovative and technological solutions to secure their own supply chains, microentrepreneurs, hospitals, and rural and distant communities.

How India Inc can craft an effective response to the pandemic

Corporate India plays a critical and urgent role in mitigating the economic, and health impacts of the pandemic. Industry leaders, public health experts, experienced members of social enterprises and thought leaders such as Nobel laureate Esther Duflo came together for Samhita’s ‘Leaders with a Purpose’ webinar series, to address the need for collaborative partnerships across stakeholders. Read on to find out more about the invaluable role corporate India can play in the arena of promoting behaviour change, providing innovative and technological solutions to secure their own supply chains, microentrepreneurs, hospitals, and rural and distant communities.

Co-creating solutions with Samaj, Sarkar and Bazaar

While navigating the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy, industry and society, Samhita Social Ventures and IDFC Institute co-hosted ‘Leaders with Purpose’ — a webinar series aimed at exploring how Samaj, Sarkar and Bazaar can come together at this unprecedented time and reimagine solutions to benefit both business and the socio-economically vulnerable.

Optimising CSR for Rural Development

According to the 2011 census, 69 per cent of India’s population lives in rural areas, amounting to roughly 833 million people. The reality of rural India is far from the idyllic scenes of bucolic farmlands. However, there is a significant role that CSR can play if employed effectively.

Read Samhita’s analysis on the challenges and opportunities for CSR in rural development, as part of the 12th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility & Presentation of Golden Peacock Awards.

Investing CSR in Incubators – A Unique Model of Partnership

Authored by P.R. Ganapathy, President ( India), Villgro Innovations Foundation 

After, USA and China, India has the largest incubator and accelerator ecosystem in the world. But few companies have sufficient information on this ecosystem to be able to invest in it.

Samhita, and Villgro, supported by GIZ are addressing this information asymmetry and facilitating partnerships between companies and incubators and social enterprises(SEs).

The traditional model of CSR involves selecting an NGO working in an area of your interest (livelihoods, education, etc.) and funding them for a specific project, say, training 500 women artisans, or setting up a computer lab in a school.

But, the smart CSR managers of today are asking harder questions of this model.

What happened to those women artisans after the training was completed? Who buys their products and connects them to consumers? Is the model sustainable? What do children actually learn from the computer lab? Who teaches them? What content is available? Who maintains the computers and the lab to ensure it continues to deliver value?

One way to find these answers is to partner with social enterprises or for-profit entities who use market-based approaches to solve social problems.

The next logical question is : “Is it legal?” Does the Companies Act permit CSR funding to be used for support for-profit social enterprises?

The answer is a resounding Yes! Under Section (vii) of the Companies Act, CSR funds can be used to support Government-approved Technology Business Incubators (TBIs) located within academic institutions. A subsequent clarification also specifies that any TBI can be supported using CSR funds.

So, why should your company invest its CSR in social enterprises and incubators?

Innovation: Social enterprises, by definition, use innovative approaches to solving social problems. From the Biosense non-invasive anemia measurement device to the Adhyayan school transformation rubric, these enterprise use fundamental new ways of approaching social challenges, with significantly better outcomes.

 More resources:Because social enterprises attract financing from impact investors, they have significantly more resources than traditional non-profits or NGOs. This allows them to leverage your CSR money for much greater impact.

Focus on talent:More resources and a for-profit structure means the ability to pay better salaries, and attract the talent they want. They can also offer stock options. We’ve see our social entrepreneurs capitalize on the start-up craze to attract experienced and seasoned talent, leading to significantly better execution.

Sustainability:Because social enterprises have a revenue model, they have high potential for sustainability. Which means that even after your CSR funding project finishes, their solution and service continues to live on.

Scale: The combination of a sustainable revenue model, more resources and focus on talent means that these organizations have the potential for scale far greater than the traditional NGO/Non-profit model. Which means that the small amount of CSR funding you provided at the beginning is leveraged multi-fold, to achieve outsized, national-level scale and impact.

How should your company engage with social enterprises through a TBI ?

From my experience working with many corporates and social enterprises, I believe there are five dimensions to consider while designing your engagement.

Money: Social enterprises need money, especially at the early stages when they’re being incubated by a TBI, to hire the initial employees, develop their product, test-market their solution, etc.

You could fund a TBI to fund a social enterprise in four different ways:

  • Select a specific company from their portfolio that aligns with your CSR priorities – for example, agriculture or education. Your MOU with the TBI then specifies which social enterprise the funding should go to, and perhaps also what that funding should be used for and the milestones that should be achieved. Most CSRs currently work in this model.
  • Select together from a pipeline that the TBI surfaces around your CSR theme areas — you’re leveraging the TBI’s network and processes for selection and diligence, and also having a say in the process by participating in their “Investment Committee.” This way you can fund new ideas, and yet have a say in the process. Marico worked with Villgro to find and select a social enterprise working in the field of diabetes, their focus area.
  • Provide an open grant and leave it to the TBI to select and incubate enterprises within your theme areas. This stage implies you have developed trust in the TBI’s selection processes, and can depend on them to find good enterprises that fit your mandate. A corporate recently engaged Villgro to find and support skill training social enterprises, which is their CSR theme area.
  • Fund the TBI’s program costs like incubation staff, mentors, knowledge building sessions, etc., and not fund incubatees directly. This often allows the TBI the flexibility to provide the much-needed handholding that plays an equally important part in the incubation process. A large IT multi-national in Bangalore funded IIT Bombay’s incubator for the costs of running an accelerator program.

Mentoring: Your corporate has several experienced, seasoned, senior executives, and social enterprises are often founded by relatively inexperienced founders who are trying to do something radical to solve a social problem. In our experience, mentoring from senior executives is at least as valuable as the funding we provide our incubatees. By engaging your senior management in mentoring these entrepreneurs, you’re giving them a chance to “give back” while adding significant value to the incubatee. Mphasis senior management were closely involved with one of Villgro’s incubatees, providing mentoring and guidance.

Expertise: You may have technical experts in your organization who can add great value to social enterprises by giving them advice from time to time. For example, GE’s 5.38 accelerator for med-tech social entrepreneurs provides access to technical experts within GE Healthcare. That sort of expertise is hard to come by, or well-nigh impossible to access, and can significantly assist a med-tech social enterprise in product development. Your employees also benefit by using their expertise for social good, and it enhances their sense of goodwill for their employer, because they can witness first hand the social impact of their company’s CSR program.

Facilities: A social enterprise, especially one working on an innovative new physical product like a medical device, doesn’t have the capital required to invest in labs, fabrication facilities, etc. However, it does need access to these facilities for product development. Corporates have these assets, and they are generally under-utilitized. By creating a way by which social enterprises can leverage these facilities, you could provide they a valuable and timely resource that reduces the cost, improves the quality, and cuts the time of product development.

Go to market: Lastly, social enterprises need partnerships to take their products to market. Established distribution channels are often out of their reach, because of their innovative product, lack of market demand, and low marketing resources. A corporate that can distribute a social enterprise’s product through its own distribution channels will provide that social enterprise significantly value. A large agri conglomerate’s recent tie-up with one of Villgro’s agriculture social enterprises is an example of how this could work.

In conclusion, we’re seeing the shift from tactical, project-based CSR, to strategic, programmatic CSR. By adding social enterprise support to your CSR program, and engaging corporate resources such as senior management mentors, technical experts, leveraging facilities and using distribution channels to make the support strategic, you can maximize your impact and effectiveness.

Interested? GIZVillgro and Samhita are working to help Corporates find TBIs and engage with them. So, if you are a corporate or an incubator, looking to explore new horizons of partnerships, get in touch.

Demystifying the CSR law: with Nishith Desai

Nishith Desai, founder of Nishith Desai Associates led an enlightening discussion on approaching CSR strategically, building knowledge about the CSR and the various legislations affecting the development sector. The discussion was held with CSR and sustainability heads of India’s biggest and most recognisable firms. This discussion was part of the release of Transforming India: The CSR Opportunity, a report by Samhita Social Ventures supported by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Small-Scale Financial Literacy Projects: Catalysts for Transformation

Financial literacy has long been recognized as a key driver of economic growth and prosperity. This blog delves into the urgent requirement for financial literacy programs in India, especially in the backdrop of remarkable economic progress. Despite the broader accessibility of financial services, a substantial portion of the population lacks fundamental financial knowledge. The blog underscores how these programs can empower women, stimulate entrepreneurship, mitigate debt-related pitfalls, and contribute to economic advancement. It also examines the difficulties encountered by smaller-scale initiatives and draws valuable insights from REVIVE’s endeavors in promoting comprehensive financial empowerment. 



India’s financial system combines formal and informal elements, yet a significant portion of the population lacks basic financial access despite impressive economic growth. India has made notable progress in improving financial inclusion, leading to the creation of millions of new bank accounts. However, mere access to financial services falls short. Often overlooked is the essential aspect of financial literacy, with a substantial portion of the population lacking even a basic understanding of the financial system.

  1. Empowering Women: Women in India often play a pivotal role in managing the household budget and making financial decisions. Equipping them with financial literacy tools is crucial as it empowers them to make informed choices, not only about daily expenses but also about savings and investments. This, in turn, can lead to greater financial security for their families.
  2. Fostering Entrepreneurship: Financial literacy is a powerful tool for promoting entrepreneurship, particularly among women. When women entrepreneurs have access to foundational financial knowledge and are provided with small-scale business opportunities, they can create a significant impact on their families and communities. This can lead to economic growth and poverty reduction on a larger scale.
  3. Avoiding Debt Traps: Lack of financial literacy often leads individuals to make poor financial decisions, such as taking on high-interest loans or falling prey to unscrupulous financial practices. With better financial education, people are more likely to make sound financial choices, thus avoiding debt traps and financial distress.
  4. Enhancing Economic Growth: A financially literate population is better equipped to contribute to the overall economic growth of the country. When people understand the importance of saving, investing, and responsible financial management, they are more likely to participate in the formal economy, leading to increased economic stability and development.

Financial literacy in


 Small-scale financial literacy projects in India encounter a multitude of challenges that can hinder their mission to empower individuals with essential financial knowledge. These challenges include:

  1. Limited Funding: Securing adequate financial resources to sustain and expand their initiatives is a constant struggle. Small projects often rely on donations, grants, or volunteer efforts, making it challenging to maintain consistent operations.
  2. Lack of Awareness: Many small-scale projects struggle to reach their target audience due to limited marketing budgets. Building awareness about the importance of financial literacy and the availability of these programs is a significant hurdle.
  3. Behavioral Change: Encouraging individuals to adopt better financial practices and break existing habits is complex and time-consuming. It requires ongoing support and reinforcement.
  4. Evaluation and Impact Measurement: Demonstrating the tangible impact of financial literacy programs is crucial for securing future funding and expanding the reach, but it can be resource-intensive.
  5. Scalability: Expanding their initiatives to serve more people is a goal for most small projects, but scaling up while maintaining quality and impact is a delicate balancing act.

Rural couple making digital payment


REVIVE’s commitment to empowering small-scale projects through transformative initiatives for financial inclusion and literacy has undoubtedly yielded valuable lessons that can be applied to drive larger-scale development. Here are some key lessons that can be drawn from REVIVE’s efforts:

  1. Localized Strategies: Recognizing the diversity of India, these projects emphasize the need for localized strategies and language-specific materials to effectively reach all segments of the population.
  2. Partnerships: Collaborations with local NGOs, government agencies, and financial institutions enhance the reach and impact of these projects.
  3. Technology Integration: Leveraging technology, such as mobile banking and digital financial tools, can greatly enhance financial literacy efforts, particularly in remote areas.
  4. Long-Term Commitment: Sustainable change requires a long-term commitment. These projects emphasize ongoing support and follow-up to ensure that financial literacy gains are retained and utilized.

Small-scale financial literacy initiatives are serving as a cornerstone in the empowerment of individuals, with a particular focus on women and communities across India. These projects are actively tackling the obstacles associated with financial literacy and offering tailored education and resources, ultimately making significant contributions to broader development and transformation efforts.