Nexus Incubator-trained LetsEndorse offers a collaborative ecosystem to social innovators and connects them with other stakeholders to benefit communities.
By Jason Chiang
Volunteers from Intel Corporation create a life-sized snakes and ladders board at a government primary school in Karnataka, as part of Project Rangmaidan. Photograph courtesy LetsEndorse
Not every innovator is an entrepreneur. Likewise, not every entrepreneur is an innovator. It was this epiphany that inspired the creation of LetsEndorse, a marketplace for connecting social innovators with grassroots organizations, corporations, government bodies and individuals. The connections help take the most effective and befitting social innovations and solutions to the last-mile communities who need them.
Since 2015, the Bengaluru-based company has functioned as a market network to bring together social innovations from across the world for discovery by those who need them. It offers technology platforms and tools to enable operational and financial efficiencies as well as transparency in the process of bringing about social change. LetsEndorse has received training at the Nexus Incubator start-up hub at American Center New Delhi.
Excerpts from an interview with LetsEndorse co-founder Monika Shukla about the company’s platform and its mission.
Could you please tell us about LetsEndorse and its work?
LetsEndorse is a market network of practicable social innovations from over 40 countries. Our network contains more than 2,000 grassroots-level community-based organizations and several enablers like funders, volunteers and pro bono workers.
We modeled LetsEndorse as a solutions exchange platform, with the ideology of taking beneficial and innovative solutions to the last mile. It brings together communities, represented by nongovernmental organizations, social innovators, and individual and institutional funders. It enables discovery, blueprinting, viability checking, fundraising and complete lifecycle tracking of the process of solution deployment. We have fueled over 350 solution-centric interventions in the last four-and-a-half years.
How did the idea for LetsEndorse come together?
LetsEndorse believes that resolving the problems of access and affordability of solutions can remove the biggest barriers, while empowering people to meet their needs. I met Varun Kashyap, the company’s co-founder, in 2012 during a master’s course. We worked with various social organizations in different capacities, only to realize how many promising solutions to social issues are not coming off the shelf and are not benefiting people in need.
To bridge the funds gap, if a community cannot pay for procuring an innovation, the marketplace should include funders like philanthropists, family offices, corporations through their corporate social responsibility verticals and local governments, who fuel such solution-centric interventions.
Please tell us about the COVID-19 response efforts by LetsEndorse.
We built and launched a technology platform, called Aapoorti, with the Maharashtra State Innovation Society to identify real-time material gaps in hospitals and garner collective support to bridge those gaps. Considering the inadequately equipped public health infrastructure in most states, there is a need to ensure transparent movement of medical supplies, right from fundraising and ordering to inventory allocation and dispatch. Aapoorti is our solution for this issue.
Additionally, over the last few months, we have been working toward boosting self-reliance, through self-employment, among India’s economically vulnerable population. We have worked extensively with the Small Industries Development Bank of India in 108 districts spread across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Telangana, to help create 10,000 micro, small and medium enterprises.
In post-COVID India, livelihoods for a large number of reverse migrants, who moved back to their villages and small towns from cities, will remain uncertain and job creation will slow down. Through Project Udyamita, we aim to fuel a rapid growth of nano and micro-entrepreneurship across India. As part of the overall mission, we will identify, nurture and equip hundreds of young aspirants to become self-employed through robust business models. We are working with state administrations, civil society organizations and corporate partners with the goal of making 100,000 people become self-reliant in the next 24 months.
Besides these, we have worked closely with several grassroots nongovernmental organizations to design effective communication strategies for them and recruit virtual volunteers to support key functions of their work.
Having worked globally with different types of industries, what similarities do you notice between the most impactful organizations?
Some of the similarities are a holistic understanding of the problem, which comes from thorough research; effective validation of perceived problems; staying very lean; community-centered solution testing; having a sustainability plan and a vision to convert their beneficiaries into potential customers; and not being dependent on grants forever. Mission-orientedness and staying true to being an impact-first organization are some of the other common themes of these organizations.
What were some of your biggest takeaways from training with the Nexus Incubator?
Some of the noteworthy aspects of the Nexus program that clearly stood out and continue to guide us are: First, the “get out of the building” exercise, which is essentially about testing and validating your ideas and solutions with real people. Second, pitching perfectly, which is the ability to introduce the work you do to different audiences, and do that articulately. This also involved gauging the interests of the audience or listener, what could be the potential synergies, and focusing on those aspects.
What do you see as being the most important challenges for social entrepreneurs to address in the near future? How can the “impact ecosystem” achieve the most good?
Addressing the basic needs of communities, in terms of providing access to potable water, good housing, nutrition and clean air; ensuring maximum productivity from agriculture; social and economic parity; and disaster proofing are some of the biggest challenges which still need innovation.
The “impact ecosystem” can achieve the maximum when the efforts are synchronized, when promising solutions get enough resources to scale up and when the “impact capital” gets channelized toward solving problems effectively.
Do you have any advice for those interested in getting more involved in social entrepreneurship?
Solving people’s problems would take years. In order to have the patience and the sustained drive to keep at it, we advise entrepreneurs to work on a problem which speaks to them the most. If they build value for people, they would end up building value for themselves. A few things we wish we could tell ourselves in our early days are that research and instincts are equally important. Think about scale and sustainability. Be resilient and build your tribe of people, who are as driven and passionate to solve the problem as you are.
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.