The Millennium Alliance (MA) is a pool fund that provides financial and capacity building support to budding social entrepreneurs across six sectors in India, Asia, and Africa. There are significant gaps between the services and technologies that are required by below-the-poverty line people and those that are accessible and affordable. MA attempts to bridge this gap by accelerating the scaling and delivery of these live-saving and life-improving innovations.
We primarily work with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the main implementation partner for the MA. Other key partners include USAID, the Indian government’s Technology Development Board, the World Bank, ICCo, DFID, and WISH Foundation. MA is currently in its third year and, up until now, has supported 62 enterprises.
One of our largest goals is to make MA grants more accessible and visible in the entrepreneurship landscape. We streamlined the grant application process to make it more user-friendly for applicants and to reduce the grant evaluation timeline by half, from one year to six months, so that grantees receive the funds as soon as possible to begin their proposed work. We also created an outreach and communications strategy, setting processes to reach high-quality potential applicants and to streamline communication with stakeholders such as MA partners and the Indian government.
Another major initiative we worked on was designing a needs assessment tool to critically assess grantees’ needs and challenges. We see this as a valuable starting point to address the capacity constraints faced by grantees.
How has working in the field changed your understanding of impact?
Over the last 6 months, we have had countless interactions with a number of players in the impact investment ecosystem: entrepreneurs, incubators, accelerators, foundations, development finance institutions and the likes. Through our work and these conversations, one thing that we’ve seen is that there is significant debate around the word 'impact'. Each stakeholder has a unique vision, which subsequently leads to priorities that are diverse. With the impact ecosystem growing in strength and size, most stakeholders have now begun to critically examine the way they think about impact and scale. Having heard arguments on various fronts, we see that the scope of 'impact' at the bottom of the pyramid increases when different institutions ranging from social enterprises to foundations align their interests.
What are some of the highlights of your team’s work thus far?
When we started at MA, we conducted a project scoping exercise where we looked both at MA and at the entire social impact landscape. We met each of the MA partners and took note of their goals and ideas for the platform. Next, we visited some of the grantees to understand the kind of investments MA makes. Alongside, we conducted a landscape study of similar platforms to understand best practices in social impact investing. These insights helped to guide our ensuing project initiatives.
What are the challenges you’ve faced with this project?
As a young team trying to augment both the strategic and operational arm of MA/FICCI, our biggest challenge has been building credibility and trust with senior board members and staff who are much more experienced. Operating in this multi-stakeholder environment has required us to make a concerted effort to understand and address the underlying concerns of all stakeholders and contributors to the pool fund, to put our hand up eagerly and be willing to contribute - no task is too small or large.
Another challenge has been developing expertise in an area where none of the team members have prior experience or understanding. Apart from reading widely on the relevant issues, we are working with a number of mentors to better understand the impact investing space, so that we’re able to be more successful in our project goals.
What’s next for the IIC MA team?
In the coming months, we hope to create a capacity building strategy for MA’s portfolio enterprises and conduct a workshop with awardees to pilot that venue for MA to support its awardees. We also aim to compile success stories of awardees who have benefitted from MA’s financial and capacity building support. Finally, we will synthesize insights on how social enterprises scale based on our research and make this research available to MA partners. Our emphasis with this work, which has been a primary goal from the very beginning, is to make sure that the systems and processes that we put in place are sustainable beyond our engagement with MA.
Aarushi Uboweja, Anoop Singh Rawat, Laura Watry, and Pranav Jain contributed to this article.