Human Potential

A Platform to Celebrate Social Innovators

Picture these - A disabled man struggling to cross the road. A child in a government school sitting on the floor hunched over his books. An asthmatic young biker using an inhaler at the traffic signal.

When faced with such realities, we often feel empathy but how often do we think of finding a solution that will make their lives better?

This story is about people who did precisely that. Social innovators who are attempting to make a difference to the lives of people around us, with their unique solutions.

The Inspiration behind Aarohan, a Social Innovation Award

Most of us know of Mrs. Sudha Murty as a social worker and an author. As the chairperson of Infosys Foundation, she has spent over two decades running social programs. But she was restless to do more.

And that’s when ‘Aarohan’ was conceptualized, a unique program that provides a platform for social entrepreneurs to gain recognition, mentorship, and the opportunity to scale up.

Here are a few excerpts from our conversation with Mrs. Sudha Murty and the vision behind the program that shifts the focus from social service to building sustainable social change.

Infosys: Mrs. Murty, please tell us about the driving factors behind the creation of Aarohan and what is unique about it?

Mrs. Sudha Murty: Long ago, I had read a book called ‘Men Who Shaped the Future” by Egon Larsen that spoke about new inventions that made a powerful impact on the society. Take for example, the sewing machine. With that simple invention, Elias Howe changed the fashion industry forever.

The chance discovery of an ingenious roti making device at a community kitchen that I was visiting, led me to think that here was an opportunity to encourage more of social entrepreneurship. So far, the Foundation was using its funds only to run social projects. What if this fund could also be used to uncover the work that thousands of social innovators are already doing across India and enable them to be self-reliant?

We decided to launch the Aarohan Social Innovation Awards, It is a competitive platform inviting submissions from individuals, teams, and NGOs who are working on developing unique solutions across India for various challenges in the social sector.

Cash prizes totaling to Rs 1.7 crores (17 million INR) were announced for the winners with an 8-week mentorship program at the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad. Through these awards, we are providing institutional support to the winners to help them scale their innovations.

Infosys: Tell us about the different kinds of social innovations you saw at Aarohan? Were there any stories that stayed with you? Which are the areas where you think we have the biggest need for innovation?

Mrs. Sudha Murty: It was heartening to see a large number of different types of innovations. It is difficult to speak of any one story as special because each of the participants had put in so much passion and personal sacrifice in their work. There were people who quit well-paying jobs in the US to come back to India and pursue their ideas. It was also inspiring to see a lot of young innovators with little experience but with lots of enthusiasm and little regard for their own comfort and growth.

We had over 900 entries with a lot of great work being done in the following six areas – healthcare, rural development, education and sports, women’s safety and empowerment, destitute care, and sustainability. There is still a lot of opportunity in the medical field, where affordable, small, and simple instruments could make a big difference to large sets of population. For example, we found this young team who had designed an anti-pollution mask that also served as an automated drug delivery device. This was a small invention but it could make a radical impact on people suffering from respiratory ailments.

Similarly today, with more and more people abandoning farming, any invention that can help farmers reduce their dependency on physical human labor will bring a lot of value.

Infosys: Why do you think providing institutional support to a social innovator is important?

Mrs. Sudha Murty: If you see, most of the participants are young, inexperienced, or lack financial strength. They are driven by their passion to make a difference but sadly lack either the direction or the ability to take their ideas to the next level of maturity.

By providing institutional support, these innovators will have the necessary monetary resources to invest further in their inventions. In addition, institutions can facilitate further learning and mentorship, helping them pick the necessary skills and knowledge that will enable them to sustain their efforts.

Infosys: With over 900 applications, Aarohan’s first program has been a huge success. What are your plans for the future of this program?

Mrs. Sudha Murty: We plan to continue to encourage social innovators and help them on their journey to become more self-reliant and sustain their work. It was a massive challenge to sift through over 900 applications and identify the most impactful ideas. It took over six months to conduct the entire program and we also went through a lot of learning. We were fortunate to have a very dedicated team and an illustrious panel of judges who committed their time and effort to the program. We have taken feedback from the participants too and will be reviewing all the learnings from this year’s edition. I am sure that with the next set of applications, we will have more new ideas, challenges, and requirements and Aarohan will continue to evolve based on the needs of these social innovators.