Press Release

Achieving the SDGs in India the Gandhain & Silicon Valley way: Unity in Diversity meets Digital Innovations

By Chitra Rajeshwari and Radhika Shah As the SDG Philanthropy Platform launches efforts in India to accelerate achievement towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), collaboration between diverse actors and orchestration between varied innovations will be critical. Mahatma Gandhi said that the beauty and test of our civilization will be our ability to reach unity in diversity.  Nowhere is this truer than in India where diverse actors are building, innovating and leveraging technology to advance social causes. Corporate leaders in India are among the biggest philanthropists and among the major innovators in the social sector and are leading impact investors in India. Many have successfully brought their innovations, expertise and resources to collaborate with India’s government entities and universities to improve government services, policy making and R&D to catalyze greater innovation. One such example India Stack is leveraging the government’s rollout of Adhar Id digital biometrics technology to solve many more societal problems on top of Adhar’s accomplishment of giving every India a digital identity and thus a voice. Another is Ekstep - a contextualized e-learning collaboration platform that leverages India Stack and provides Indian children access to quality numeracy and literacy - founded by former tech leader philanthropists. There is potential for such examples of successful public private partnerships to multiply and scale. India was the first country to enshrine corporate giving into law, when in 2014 it started requiring larger businesses to give away 2% of their net profit to charity. Yet at the same time, it is critical to recognize that in India, social innovation that leads to societial behavior change often comes from the grassroots, not the top down. And women and less advantaged communities have often been the key innovators and entrepreneurs in India, especially in rural regions. Progress will remain slow on all SDGs if Goal 5, Gender Equality - inclusiveness and women’s empowerment are not upheld as critical strategies for innovation and social progress. Starting with the cellphone revolution and now with biometric identities and the trend towards a cashless economy, India has proven to be at the vanguard of getting new technologies quickly into the hands of millions including rural residents. As India’s diverse communities use and adapt new technologies to suit their own contexts and needs, e-innovations are developed that further enable India to leapfrog traditional development steps and improve lives faster, it will be critical for women to have access to these innovations. A key role of the SDG Philanthropy Platform will be to bring together diverse social actors and catalyze the knowledge creation and sharing, and cross-sector collaboration required for such systems level change. The Platform has the backing of seasoned funders and cutting edge innovators including from Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs - a community of the most entrepreneurial and innovative Stanford alumni, faculty and students who come together to advance technology innovation in Silicon Valley. Through the Platform, grassroots non-profits in India will have access to the expertise and resources from the UN, top corporate and academic leaders in India as well as from Stanford and the greater Silicon Valley and other US institutions including UCLA. With the compass of the SDGs as a guide, partners of the Platform will be able to analyze data and collectively identify gaps, catalyze funding and the building and scaling of low-cost innovation and other solutions that help all Indians lead a dignified life. A key focus of the Platform will be anchoring the work towards the SDG goals in India via women's empowerment. Gandhi reminds us to reach unity through diversity, respecting the dignity, agency, and contributions of every human being and championing women’s empowerment every step of the way. He shows us a path forward towards achieving the SDGs in India and the world via women’s empowerment. Avasant Foundation (AF) was an early funder of and partner of the Platform’s efforts in India as we see the impact it will have towards AF’s mission of youth empowerment through education, employment and entrepreneurship in the digital economy. The Platform’s work in India will focus on poverty, inclusive, quality education, gender equality, and inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all - via women’s empowerment as an accelerant for these SDGs. Chitra Rajeshwari is Executive Director of Avasant Foundation, which leverages the expertise and resources of global business and digital strategy firm, Avasant, to create opportunities for youth to succeed in the workforce of today and tomorrow. Radhika Shah is CoPresident of the Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs (SA&E) and an advisor to the Sustainable Development Goals Philanthropy Platform. She grew up in the world of the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram in Gujarat, India. - See more at: