The Indian demographic scale is tipping towards the point where the size of its working population will soon far exceed the dependent population. This demographic dividend means the country is on the path to economic development and prosperity for everyone — the blueprint to achieve the government’s dream of becoming a USD 5 trillion economy. However, this pursuit of growth is plagued by the many social problems facing the country — which is where corporate India has the opportunity to make a difference.

A recent Accenture Strategy global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers found that 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on current and relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices. The closer a company’s purpose aligns to their own beliefs, the better the connection.

In today’s world of social transparency, organizations need to be conscious of opportunities to make a difference in their communities. More and more entrepreneurs passionate about addressing the challenges the world faces have given their time, skills, values and income to social causes. While some of them start as mere check writers, they eventually evolve into starting consistent engagements to tackle issues deeply concerning society.

Elderly: Embrace tech to improve livelihoods and stay connected. This leads to emotional stability, better health and increased safety for aged adults, and reduces a caregiver’s stress.

Disabilities and special needs: Promote independence, self-reliance, improved health and quality of life for people with disabilities and special needs by helping them adapt to the challenges of their environment and fully realize their potential.

Urban poor and urban poverty: Improve quality of life, and empower and equip the eight million children in India’s urban slums by providing increased access to education, better waste management, and unlimited medical information.

Women and Girls: Empower women and girls to have a voice, education and better employment opportunities despite gender inequality in their community. Help bridge the technology gap and give women convenience, security, and privacy.

Children and Youth: Tackle complicated social problems for adolescents, and give them hope and a meaningful connection to their community and peers.

Sow the Seeds of Philanthropy

Purpose-driven financing has measurable social outcomes — this happens when businesses prioritize the interests of society and the environment as much as their bottom lines. Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning, robotics, blockchain, and XR (Extended Reality) are helping make these sustainable development goals a reality.

Though India has a thriving impact investing ecosystem, many challenges still need tackling. The New Delhi-based Impact Investors Council says there are 30+ active impact investors in India who have invested USD 1.6 billion in over 300 enterprises and funds across industries. These include financial inclusion (businesses that provide financial services at a reasonable cost to vulnerable groups), agribusiness, healthcare, education, and clean energy. Their contributions have turned India into one of the world’s largest impact investment destinations. Over the years, this sector has expanded beyond microfinance to include affordable housing, education and vocational training, and technology solutions for development, poverty, gender equality and hunger.

  • Over the past five years, philanthropy in India has grown from roughly USD 22 billion to about USD 32 billion.

  • The Indian economy grew at an annualized 8.2 percent in the first quarter of FY2019, maintaining its position as the world's fastest-growing major economy.

  • The World Bank estimates India will be the world’s fastest-growing economy until at least 2021, with the cumulative wealth of India's population predicted to reach USD 25 trillion by 2027.

India’s strong economic growth and rising high and upper-middle-income population show the potential for increased private and public contributions to the social sector.

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CSR expenditure by activities in 2017-18

Solving social
issues with

India needs social impact at scale to eradicate poverty and challenges affecting poor and at-risk citizens such as the elderly, women, the disabled and refugees, among others.

Bengaluru-based Forus Health is in the business of early detection of preventable blindness — which affects millions of people worldwide. It develops and manufactures highly advanced, yet affordable and accessible, medical devices such as its portable retinal imaging device that can be operated by someone with just a basic high school education. The medical technology firm began its social endeavor because data showed India has only one ophthalmologist for every 90,000 people. Forus Health believes early detection can mitigate the social, economic and emotional impact of blindness, especially in rural India.

With financial capital not an issue any longer, businesses must solve India’s social sector problems the way they build companies. Dedication to social causes, the expertise of people, and advanced technological know-how help create innovations that help address the country’s urgent development challenges.

When providing technical support and customized solutions become essential skills, tackling social issues is effective and efficient. For example, if NGOs start collecting, analyzing and visualizing data, they will be able to better measure their impact and showcase it to attract critical collaborations.

Technology as a Changemaker

The world’s biggest technological innovations are happening around us right now. When inspiration triggers a business to think beyond, it kickstarts a social enterprise committed to development.

Turning disability into a superpower

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world; India itself has 26.8 million people with physical and mental disabilities. The Government took a crucial first step in legislation when it included Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016. This legislative evolution comes hand-in-hand with advancements in technology.

A 2019 study published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ journal revealed a machine-learning algorithm that can spot abnormalities in pupil dilation, a predictor of ASD.

Additionally, Augmented Reality (AR)-powered wearable computers can help those with ASD gain confidence and clarity, better understand people and their environment, socially integrate, and become self-sufficient.
Machine learning for ASD
The ASD screening app spots behavior typical of autistic babies, such as a preference for toys and objects over people and corresponding social cues. The in-app test detects this by playing a movie with a social stimulus (a woman telling nursery rhymes, for example) on half the screen, and a non-social stimulus on the other half (a spinning top). A front-facing camera on the mobile device tracks the child’s gaze, head movements, smile, and other facial cues.
The frame-by-frame recording of the child’s reactions is analyzed by an automatic behavioral coding software which quantifies emotions and attention. For example, when bubbles float across the screen, the algorithm looks for facial movements indicating joy.
Spotting the difference are tools like TensorFlow and PyTorch, which deploy machine-learning models to connect facial expressions and eye movements to the appropriate emotions and attention patterns. These frameworks for deep learning are used to develop privacy filters for the images and videos, an essential requirement for sensitive healthcare data.

Lending a hand to those with physical disabilities

Through government schemes and NGO partnerships, the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) reaches out every year to 200,000 disabled people who can’t afford prosthetics and aids. ALIMCO produces 355 assistive devices for people with disabilities of the limbs, eyes, and ears.

AI for healthcare continues to improve, expanding bionics technology to provide new opportunities for people to lead fuller lives.

One of the most impressive medical bionics is the robotic exoskeleton, which helps get patients — even those suffering from paralysis – walking again.

Bionics is seeing rising demand in India. Many medical institutions prefer bionics over organ transplants or traditional methods like a wooden leg, or a marble or glass eye. But bionics has a long way to go in India as it requires a more growth-inductive environment for further development.
AI & Bionic prosthetics
It takes well-coordinated work between weak electrical signals from the stump of the amputee and a miniature computer in the bionic arm to control movement. When a person puts on their bionic arm, the machine learning algorithm in the computer detects electrical signals, which it then converts into instructions for movement. This new machine receives signals from the patient via wireless technology and will be far superior at providing natural, fluid movements.
Bionic legs are trickier than arms as balancing is hard work, but smart AI and open-source prosthetics are changing the future. Supporting a patient’s body, and complicated movements such as cuts, pivots, turns, or the flick of an ankle add more intricacy to the equation. The Raspberry Pi-powered AI control uses muscle contraction signals and sensor data from the bionic leg to guess what a user is going to do next and responds accordingly.
Patients with severe retinitis pigmentosa, a rare group of inherited diseases that cause retinal degeneration, benefit from bionic eyes. This visual prostheses are implants that let patients see movement, light, and shapes, even though vision is not perfect. Another new technology for the blind is eSight — eyewear that enhances whatever users are looking at to maximize their remaining eyesight. Meanwhile, SeeingAI, a research project harnessing the power of AI to describe people, text, and objects, is a free app developed by Microsoft to narrate the world around a blind person.

Adoption of Innovative Agri-Tech

Agricultural exports constitute 10 percent of India’s export business and is the country’s fourth largest export commodity category. While the country has increased its agricultural output over the years, the number of cultivators has plummeted from 71.9 percent in 1951 to 45.1 percent in 2011. According to the Economic Survey 2018, the percentage of agricultural workers of the total workforce will drop to 25.7 percent by 2050.

Debt, marginal income and rising expenses define the life of a farmer in rural India today. The community contributes to over 17 percent of the national GDP, but is still awaiting help from the government. Over the past few years, there have been numerous reports on debt-riddled farmers committing suicide. In March 2018, 40,000 to 50,000 farmers marched over 100 miles from Nashik to Mumbai to protest outside the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

Though Big Data analytics have helped the world analyze and extract information from complex data sets, the Indian agricultural sector is still stuck with age-old manual algorithms such as the Mahalanobis Plan and Mahalanobis Distance. Adopting technology will solve some of the hardest problems faced by the agricultural community today. Advancements such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology will bring profitable precision agriculture for farmers as well as the country. These technologies are also more efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly compared to traditional practices.
IoT (Internet of Things) for farmers
For better production, distribution and cost control in agriculture, India still needs to be modernized. Many types of IoT sensors, like environmental and gas sensors, are used to monitor essential parameters such as quality of produce, wind and light conditions, soil temperature, acidity and mineral content, sunlight and so on. The data is captured, stored, analyzed, researched and then uploaded to the Cloud for easy accessibility to farmers.
Depending on drip or sprinkler systems in farmlands is archaic and needs to be replaced with precise irrigation techniques that have centralized command and control solutions which analyze crop, soil and weather data to optimize when and how much any field should be irrigated. For example, a startup called Avanijal has developed an app-based IoT solution which irrigates fields while helping farmers save water.
Using camera-equipped drones in farming means a visual analysis of fields and crops, which helps detect unhealthy plants, for example. Drones flying at low altitudes dispense fertilizer and pesticide over farmland efficiently and uniformly. This also removes the health risk associated with handling hazardous materials.

There’s no doubt organizations in India today consider social responsibility part of their business-building. They are envisioning a future where profits and social impact co-exist in a robust and holistic business. What emerges are technologically advanced enterprises that understand stakeholder value, get a return on investment and create growth for all. This may be a dramatic shift from our traditional perception of businesses, but this change is necessary for businesses to stay relevant.