Reimagining Impact – Gururaj Deshpande’s Model for Solving Problems of 5 Billion


Although the abject poverty levels in India have fallen sharply in the last two decades, yet, most of the problems that were prevalent earlier continue to dog the lives of 80% Indians. Ideas, strategies and investments seem to have made only a marginal dent largely because the solutions were inappropriate and inadequate. This is because the problem-solving started with the question ‘What can I give, what can I offer what I’m good at’ rather than what the people need.

The big question staring at India and the developing world is – how can we break the shackles and address the mammoth challenge differently so that we have a fighting chance of seeing a more equitable world in our lifetime. 

In a bid to address such questions, the Hublli-based Deshpande Foundation has started immersing itself in a ‘Reimagining Impact’ exercise.  After it spent last ten years ‘Imagining the Impact’ the foundation is convinced it’s high time we reimagine impact because it’s difficult to scale the older solutions.

The theme of the 12th February 2019 Development Dialogue (DD) at Hubballi, a hot, dusty town 400 km north of Bengaluru, that’s been simmering with entrepreneurial energy in recent years, was ‘Reimagining Impact’. DD, one of the moderator’s remarked, is like the Jaipur Literature Festival in the development sector. It draws the best of minds from the NGO, impact funds, academia, social entrepreneurs and philanthropies from across the world every year for a feast of ideas and networking opportunities. 

Gururaj Deshpande, fondly called Desh, is leading the ‘reimagining impact’ theme. Desh is one of India’s most successful tech entrepreneurs. He has been spending his money and quality time in driving this agenda spiritedly. He has created a web of partnerships among the best in India and the world for driving his social impact ambition primarily through appropriate skilling, raising farmer incomes, nurturing social and micro entrepreneurs

In his opening remarks at the DD this year he said, “After ten years we now need a different methodology. The market solutions that exist today are for the 200 million among the 1.3 billion Indians – those who have the disposable income. What about those who don’t?”


  • Compete and Cooperate at the same time

“The Reimagining impact is all about how we learn from each other, how we compete with each other. Forge partnerships with government, corporates, academic institutions. “The ability to compete and cooperate at the same time is a unique skill. That’s a skill we all need to learn in India.”

Desh has seen it work at MIT (where Desh is a life member). “MIT competes with Stanford at every step – donors, students, faculty and others. But I have never seen a program at MIT where there are no Stanford faculty. It’s only when you cooperate and share what you learn from each other benchmarks go up. That’s the only way we can make rapid progress. There’s so much to be done that no one organization can do to solve big problems.”

  • Use what has worked for the rich on the not-so-rich

He said, the ideas that have been used on the five billion under-privileged have so far remained only ideas. We need to partner today to explore technologies, processes, funding that have worked so well for the rich on the not-so-rich.

This requires building capacity among the communities so that they are able to absorb the ideas, technologies and the progress made by the affluent category. There’s a need for stronger partnerships between the two sides. This also needs reimagining partnerships between all the stakeholders in the ecosystem, especially the government.

  • Broaden the capability of co-creation with the people who need these solutions. What it can be if we scale the ecosystem we have created so far. Reimagining impact starts with reimagining how to scale the models that have worked successfully. 
  • The village consultant model

Indian Governments have had the office of Extension Officers for quite some time – to play the role of advisors and friends to farmers. Apparently, this has not worked out.

The Desphande Foundation is advocating a Village Consultant model where the consultant functions as a confidant of the farmers advising them on almost all issues they have a problem with. Marketers often exploit farmers’ lack of knowledge and governments’ subsidies often work against their long-term interests.

At a time when farmers have lost trust in the ability of the ecosystem to work for them, this model could help in bringing some of it back. If India chooses the consultant model there is clear two to three million job opportunity, a boon at a time when meaningful jobs are hard to create.

The consultant has the potential to increase farmer incomes between ten and fifty percent with little effort.

  • Piloting of methodologies that can work

The team at the Foundation realized that there was no dearth of applicable knowledge in the world but there are no viable and robust methodologies that are able to capture them for application in the real world.

Thus came the recent Tata Deshpande Innovation Research Centre – which will work on piloting models that work.


  • Creating 10,000 microentrepreneurs and training around 4,000 plus
  • Transforming lives of 70,000 farmers through ponds and farmer producer bodies
  • Better Cotton initiatives – 40,000 farmers impacted this year, 150,000 next year
  • If the experiment with cotton works, this can be expanded to other areas
  • 2,000 innovative student-led projects delivered so far
  • 1,000 entrepreneurs provided feedback and advise
  • 26 companies spun out from 90 grants


Deshpande Foundation has rejigged itself as it enters the 2.0 phase in 2019

It changed the management and brought in Vivek Pawar, a highly successful tech entrepreneur as the CEO. It has cut down on the number of skilling programs from 40 to 7 with an eye on making them more relevant to the demands of the market today.

It stopped several programs that were not measuring up to the goals.

With the CSR space beginning to show signs of maturity, the foundation is working on forming a loose confederation of NGOs, CSRs and the government to explore working on common programs and those which have the potential to scale.

Deshpande Foundation

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