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How The Country's Largest Bank Is Supporting Social Startups SBI Foundation runs a number of flagship programs, such as Youth for India Fellowship and Center for Excellence for PwDs, to empower urban youth to solve community-centric problems, providing their social startups with financial assistance and mentorship

By Soumya Duggal

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SBI Foundation

Social entrepreneurs—individuals who build businesses to have a direct positive impact on society—do not show up out of thin air. Just like any other trade, they are born in the midst of well-curated training programs where apprentices hone the art of empathising with the socially marginalised and devising transformative solutions to better their lives.

That is the overwhelming feeling that one has gathered from interactions with the many attendees at the two-day (April 8-9) Youth for India (YFI) Conclave, held annually by SBI Foundation, the CSR initiative of India's largest public sector bank, State Bank of India (SBI).

YFI, SBI Foundation's flagship program, is a 13-month long fellowship wherein educated urban youth among fresh graduates and working professionals are selected as fellows to work on rural development projects in partnership with NGOs across 12 thematic areas, including health, food security, water, technology, women's empowerment and so on.

While the fellowship was incepted over a decade ago, SBI Foundation has begun holding 'YFI Sahyog—The Pitch Fest' (a Shark Tank India-like fundraising session for YFI alumni's social impact startups which are shortlisted after a selection process) in the last couple of years to leverage the country's burgeoning startup ecosystem to further its social work. This year, seed grants worth INR 3 million were awarded to 8 for-profit and not-for-profit social enterprises. The winners—Aadiwasi Janjagruti, AIZHEIMERS, Eco-Circular India Foundation (ECIF), and NeoMotion—received INR 6 lakh each and the runners up—yo! Makhana, Kinglee Xperience Pvt Ltd, UdyamWell, and Haati Store (House of Handicrafts)—received INR 1.5 lakh each. Last year, SBI foundation gave out INR 2 million to 6 social startups.

SBI Foundation's YFI Sahyog Pitch Fest: Review

Year

2021

2022

2023

Funding Amount

INR 7 lakh

INR 2 million

INR 3 million

Number of Startups Benefitted

3

6

8

"Startups are the future. The government is focussing a lot on the development of SMEs (small and medium enterprises). By supporting startups, we are aligning ourselves to the objectives of the government and also furthering our own work in the social sector, which will ultimately contribute to the country's development. In the coming years, our financial support for social startups will only increase," said Sanjay Prakash, managing director and CEO, SBI Foundation.

Apart from the Sahyog pitch fest, the foundation also runs other initiatives to support startups and SMEs. "Under another flagship program called Centre of Excellence for PwDs, we support startups which are working to provide assistive aids such as wheelchairs and devices for speech-to-text conversion to disabled people who have locomotive disabilities or are visually impaired. I met four such startups last month in Bangalore and we've given them INR 15 to 20 lakh monetary help each," added Prakash.

SBI Foundation also floats requests for proposals to fund social impact-driven ventures run by NGOs as well as for-profit enterprises. According to Prakash, 90 per cent of such capital is supplied by the foundation's parent body while a small chunk comes from SBI's subsidiary companies and an occasional contribution from external investors such as Mumbai-based NSDL (National Securities Depository Limited).

SBI's YFI Fellowship: Success Stories

IIT-incubated personalised wheelchair-maker NeoMotion, one of the winners at this year's SBI Sahyog pitch fest, also received an offer of INR 1 crore in exchange for one per cent equity on Shark Tank India Season 2. Co-founder Siddharth Daga credits his YFI fellowship experience for getting him started in the social sector: "I had taken a leave of absence from my job at Schlumberger, a US-based oilfields services company, to join the 2016-17 YFI batch. For a city-dweller to go live in the rural countryside and see the real India was quite an experience. Working with Gram Vikas, an NGO operating in Odisha, I first thought to take up a project in renewable energy, specifically solar, given my thermal engineering background but eventually developed a computer literacy project by designing an interdisciplinary curriculum to teach young students various subjects through computers." The experience motivated Daga to continue in the social sector and he later teamed up with co-founder Swostik Sourav Dash to set up NeoMotion at their alma mater.

NeoMotion co-founder Siddharth Daga (right) at the YFI Conclave

Pratibha Krishnaiah has a similar story to share. Part of the 2014-15 batch, Krishnaiah's YFI fellowship experience allowed her to chart an alternative career path compared to her technical educational and professional trajectory until then. "As part of the fellowship, I intended to work in forestry but the project did not take off. Then, I noticed that many women around me knitted and crocheted, and I saw an opportunity there. I founded Himalayan Blooms, an NGO to help women make marketable handmade products in rural areas, in 2017. Today, we have a network of 200 women based out of Khetikhan village, Champawat, Uttrakhand, who knit and crochet anything from winter wear to playthings to accessories to other knick knacks," she said.

Himalayan Blooms' exhibition at the YFI Conclave

Himalayan Blooms largely caters to urban customers through offline handicraft exhibitions as well as its website. The venture recorded revenues of INR 40 lakh last year, 70 per cent of which was reinvested internally, claimed Krishnaiah. "Over the last few years, women in the community have become self-reliant; they do everything by themselves: registering LLPs, sourcing raw material, shipping, uploading products on and maintaining the website, working on Tally, filing GST returns, etc. They only need a little help with marketing," she said while recounting the success of the organisation.

Soumya Duggal

Former Feature Writer

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