Sandboxed at the Deshpande Dialogue 2015!

We have to agree with Gururaj (‘Desh’) Deshpande when he refers to the Deshpande Foundation organized Development Dialogue as the ‘Woodstock for social entrepreneurs’. The annual Development Dialogue is a confluence of NGO staff, academics, grant-makers, social entrepreneurs, folks from the business world and lots of people with big ideas to change the world. The Dialogue is organised by The Deshpande Foundation which was set up by Jaishree and Gururaj Deshpande. This year’s attendees were addressed by the likes of Kailash Satyarthi, Narayan Murthy, Ramji Raghavan, Jeffrey Bradach and others from various walks of life.

Teach a man (or woman!) to fish

The founders of the Deshpande Foundation don’t believe in handouts or charity as we know it. The Foundation funds ideas that can change the world, but refuses to be a one-off donor or create a culture of dependency. The ‘Sandbox’ concept is an ecosystem for entrepreneurs and innovators to test their ideas, develop working models and scale them for maximum social and business impact.

This year’s theme, ‘Scaling by Proving’ describes the Foundation’s work in a nutshell. At the conference, it’s not uncommon to be asked what your business plan is, even if you’re an NGO! Madhua Pandit Dasa, Chairman of the Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) spoke about how technology proved to be the differentiator that led Akshaya Patra to implement the world’s largest NGO-run feeding programme. APF’s industrial-grade kitchens fed 1.4 million children in 2014. APF embodies scale like few NGOs do – each of their dal cauldrons cooks between 1,200 – 3,000 litres of sambar at a time. They plan to now extend their services to less accessible rural areas with a goal to feed 5 million children by 2020.

Give me a place to stand and I will move the world

“Begin from where you are” was a sentiment raised by Desh and echoed by many at the conference. The innovators the Foundation hopes to fund aren’t armed with degrees from elite universities. They work with farmers, artisans, technicians, students – anyone with an idea to solve a social problem. Neelam Maheshwari, who heads Grant Making at the Foundation described themselves as the “McKinsey of nonprofits.” The success of the Hubli Sandbox is spreading to other regions – RedBus co-founder Phanindra Sama has committed to setting up a Sandbox in Kakatiya in association with Raju Reddy, Founder of Sierra Atlantic Corporation. Another Sandbox is coming up in Uttar Pradesh. The Foundation has Sandboxes in the US and Canada.

Ideas looking to scale – soon!


Big idea

FUEL Professional career guidance ecosystem for India’s youth
Karadi Path Literacy without relying on the written word
Arohana Dairy Making dairy farming and farmers profitable
Gram Vikas Providing sustainable, socially inclusive and gender equitable services to the poor
Swayam Shikshan Sansthan Bringing poor women to the mainstream of development
Sevamob Mobile clinics providing primary healthcare to low-income groups

Sustainability is linked to accountability of people running the organisation

Narayan Murthy said this, but the proof of the above statement was evident in the keynote speech delivered by Kailash Satyarthi. The Nobel Prize winner held the audience spellbound with stories of his work rescuing children from bondage. Jailed for a night by an irate railway policeman for trying to save some enslaved children, he started thinking about how he could redirect his anger to tackle the demand for child labour. His quest to stop child trafficking in the carpet trade led him to Europe where he convinced Indian carpet importers to insist on a sticker that certified the product was not made using child labour. Buyers in European markets soon began looking for the GoodWeave label on carpets they bought from India, and this led to a decline in demand of non-certified products. GoodWeave has resulted in 75% less children being employed in the carpet industry since 1994.

The Development Dialogue is filled with an infectious energy that participants cannot help but imbibe. The Hubli Sandbox also drives home the point that change begins at home. Post-session discussions are abuzz with words like innovation, business model and revenue generation plans. There is a belief in bottom-up practices and frugal innovation that can change inequality of access and income in the world. We wish all the participants the very best for their endeavours, and look forward to new ideas at the next Dialogue!