Big impact: Beyond chequebook philanthropy

Indian startups get tech support besides monetary rewards from global tech corporations for their work in sustainability and environmental causes

The solution ensures optimum hygiene levels at the non-profit’s kitchens facilities.
The solution ensures optimum hygiene levels at the non-profit’s kitchens facilities.

By Srinath Srinivasan

GLOBAL TECH CORPORATIONS such as Accenture, Microsoft India and IBM are giving a leg up to some of the best Indian startups in the sustainability and social impact space. Supported by Accenture and Micro-soft India, Project Amplify has supported 10 Indian startups with an aim to come up with scalable solutions using technologies such as IoT, AI which would result in monitoring systems and creating advisory frameworks.

“We evaluate startups based on their solutions, associated Sustainable Development Goals, impact, level of technology, and roadmap for the next 6-12 months. Selected startups are then onboarded,” says Lathika Pai, country head, Venture Capital and Private Equity Partnerships, Microsoft India.

Jaljeevika, one of the startups from the programme, has created an end-to-end IoT-based aquaculture advisory framework on Microsoft Azure which is expected to reduce capital expenditure of small-scale fish farmers. “The development objective is to improve the resilience of rural households and promote micro entrepreneur- led cluster models through inland fisheries production systems and mainstreaming value chains,” says Neelkanth Mishra, founder and CEO, centre for aquatic livelihood, Jaljeevika.

In another instance, startups Syook and Wobot collaborated for a health and safety monitoring system for Akshaya Patra, which runs the world’s largest school mid-day meal programme. The solution framework, developed by Microsoft and Accenture, includes offerings from both startups and helps build a resilient supply chain while caring for frontline workers in the kitchens. The solution ensures optimum hygiene levels at the non-profit’s kitchens facilities.

Accenture and Microsoft provide startups with access to technology, design thinking expertise, technical advisory, mentorship, access to MS Research assets where possible and connecting startups with other startups and ecosystem players that they could potentially collaborate with them. “This programme is to really ensure that startups in the social impact and sustainability space get the support in terms of both technology and visibility to help them accelerate the work that they are doing. Our investments are in the form of technology and business deep dives, access to networks, Azure credits and market access,” says Pai.

Coming to technical challenges, SaafWater and WaterMon have won the global and regional level call for code challenges. Their solutions focus on improving water quality and localising water management via the use of sensors, data and analytics. SaafWater is built on an open source framework. “Thanks to the tech community and our team, challenges while designing hardware, especially power isolation, and integration of certain technologies during software development could be tackled,” says Hrishikesh Bhandari, project lead, Saaf Water. The solution by SaafWater will be showing water quality data that can be accessed and understood by everyone, including those without access to smartphones or internet.

WaterMon intends to use a crowd-sourced method and involve active participation of local communities. “The intent is to address impediments in effective utilisation of water test kits. The project leverages a common architecture of low-power microcontroller, sensor based implementation with cloud connectivity for analytics and generating actionable insights,” says Aaditya Voruganti, project lead, WaterMon.

Each winning team receives support from IBM’s Call for Code team, Call for Code ecosystem partners and the IBM Service Corps to incubate their technology, make their code available for anyone to use as open source, and deploy their solution on the ground in communities around the world.

Each of the top five teams who won the 2021 Call for Code Global Challenge received a cash prize and support from IBM and The Linux Foundation. Saaf Water will receive $200,000 and support to incubate, test, and deploy their solution from the IBM Service Corps and expert partners in the Call for Code ecosystem. It will also receive assistance from The Linux Foundation to open source their application.

WaterMon was honoured as India’s Regional Winner and will be awarded $5,000. “IBM does not place limitations on the IP of the top solutions nor does it take an equity stake. This isn’t checkbook philanthropy,” says Ruth Davis, director, Call for Code.


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