Working together through the pandemic: Omidyar Network India & ACT Grants
Written by — Sweta Daga
When the pandemic hit India, citizen groups and non-profit organizations came together to support vulnerable communities and frontline workers. Two of those groups were ACT Grants and Omidyar Network India.
Siddharth Nautiyal, a partner with Omidyar Network India says, “The pandemic required a response from investors to fund solutions that can assist people and government. Collaborating allowed various partners to benefit from each other’s skill and focus areas and to work together to amplify impact. We felt that the biggest impact was the coming together of people in the ecosystem and acting fast on the need of the hour. While there are a lot of founders providing different solutions to either government or people, the overarching impact we have seen is the coverage of problems addressed. From information to prevention to tracing to augmentation to treatment to post treatment, the entire stack of problems had founders with solutions to tackle them.”
Around the time the ACT Grants fund was being formed, Omidyar Network India launched the Rapid Response Funding Initiative (RRFI) as an immediate response to COVID-19. The objective was to get money flowing quickly to those who were in the frontline of pandemic management and relief efforts. Over the course of three months, Omidyar Network India evaluated over 2000 proposals and selected 67 for funding, deploying a capital pool of Rs 10.75 crore.
The initiative has funded organisations in 17 states, and 21 of the proposals funded are creating nationwide impact. While the work is still ongoing, an estimated 3.3 million people are likely to benefit from the direct relief. Infact, the idea was for us to be able to deploy funds towards COVID-19 response not only through our own initiative but in partnership with the ACT Fund as well. ON India evaluated proposals sent by companies within the ACT Fund portfolio and based on discussions with track lead at the ACT Grants, we recommended organizations to our IC for consideration.
He continues, “It becomes clearer when one evaluates the tracks created by the ACT Grants, when put together it was an overall gamut of solutions needed to equip against COVID19. The ACT Grants team was proactive, decisive and always reachable. We worked in sync with different teams that were leading different tracks at the ACT Grants. Updated information on proposals and decisions with ACT Grants point of view were communicated in a seamless manner, which in turn enabled us to make a quick decision.”
Moving forward Nautiyal explains, “We expect impact investing to change in two ways: It will become “mainstream” and more tech-led. The momentum that impact investing was gathering will accelerate, with far more attention now on building resilience and catering to the needs of lower-income populations and small businesses. In recent years, mainstream venture capital has also been flowing to this segment. We also expect a greater focus on measuring impact beyond only financial returns. The impact investing space will become more tech-led as the Covid-19 situation increases comfort with using digital channels and with requirements for physical distancing expected to continue. We will see a combination of digital and offline business models where technology will augment delivery of products and services for the “NHB”or next half billion Indians. Tech will also increase opportunities for them to improve their access to employment, productivity and raising income levels.”
The team at ACT Grants also felt that collaboration and communication were keys to the success of this partnership.
Shekhar Kirani, member of investment committee for ACT Grants says, “Omidyar Network India was the very first to partner with ACT, during our early days, April, 2020, after hearing our approach of supporting a lot of companies that can help attack COVID related issues that we were anticipating. Their support to help us on StepOne, in the prevention category, all the way to supporting InnAccel in the HFNC/Oxygen concentrator category helped us scale our commitments to wonderful companies in bringing the best of tech in fighting against COVID. ONI, with a vast global background, is a critical partner for ACT Grants in helping us shape our thinking as we embark on the next phase of the journey.”