Podcast: How the ‘Connect to Grow’ programme is bringing Indian innovation to Africa and South Asia

In this issue of the IMC podcast, we discuss Connect to Grow, a three-year programme that is connecting Indian innovators with enterprises across South Asia and Africa to improve people's health and agri-food prospects.

Tuesday 27 October 2015, David Irwin, Private: Baiju Vaidya, Private: Sajid Chowdhury

We recently published another issue of the IMC Worldwide podcast to our SoundCloud channel. A transcript of the podcast is below.

SC: Hello, and welcome to this podcast hosted by the international development consultancy, IMC Worldwide. My name is Sajid Chowdhury, and I’m a Senior Communications & Knowledge Management Consultant here at IMC. Today, we are going to be discussing the recent opening of Connect to Grow, a three-year programme managed by IMC, which aims to connect Indian innovators with enterprises across South Asia and Africa in order to improve people’s health and agri-food prospects.

I’m joined today by David Irwin, Team Leader of the Connect to Grow programme, and by Baiju Vaidya, Deputy Team Leader of Connect to Grow, and a Senior Consultant here at IMC. Both David and Baiju recently returned from the SEED Africa Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya, where Connect to Grow was formally opened.

So David, can you start by telling us why Connect to Grow is focusing on bringing Indian innovation to enterprises in South Asia and Africa, and what it hopes to achieve over the next three years?


DI: The objective of the programme is to link enterprises in India with an innovation with enterprises in Africa and South Asia who already have a market and who are looking for an innovation. Very often, businesses who are already selling to customers can spot needs that their customers have but don’t quite how they are going to fulfil them, and even if they can see ways in which they might be able to fulfil those further needs, often don’t have the resource.

So they need to go out and look for resources. One of the quickest ways of looking for resources is to undertake projects in partnership with another business that can perhaps bring some additional knowledge, some additional skills, and often some additional financial resource as well.

India is particularly good at coming up with innovation that can make a difference to the lives of the poor and has been doing so for a number of years, and so the objective of this programme is to help these enterprises to come together to enable the Indian enterprises to tackle a new market which is already well-known to the African or South Asian enterprise, and to enable the African or South Asian enterprise to benefit from an innovation that they haven’t previously used before.

In terms of what we hope to achieve over the next three years or so, we hope to identify enterprises in both Africa and South Asia, as well as in India, who are looking to form partnerships, and we will bring them together through a marketplace. We expect to support perhaps 100 of those partnerships with travel grants to enable them to go and talk to each other.

We then expect to have a number of those want to move forward and to set up a pilot project, and we can support those pilot projects with a small grant, particularly a grant of up to $50,000 to undertake a pilot and to prove that a concept works. Our target is to ensure that at least five of those are successful and have the opportunity to scale up, although we would be very happy to work with many more than that.


SC: So Baiju, I’d like to ask you a little bit about the mechanisms of the Connect to Grow programme. Who’s involved on the project implementation side, who are IMC’s partners, and what kinds of organisations are going to be participating in the programme?

BV: Hi, Sajid. So, we are leading a consortium of two other organisations, one of which is Innovation Alchemy, who are a reasonably small enterprise support organisation based in Bangalore in India. They’ve done a lot of work in taking innovation to scale and supporting enterprises to scale their practice and their impact. And more than that, they have an excellent knowledge of the enterprise landscape and the innovation landscape in India. So there’s really no better partner in trying to source Indian innovations.

We are also working with a consultancy called Ashley Insight, who have done a lot of work in capturing knowledge, lessons, and learnings from enterprise development programme such as the Business Innovation Facility. And we are also sort of strategically partnering with the Practitioner Hub, which is a knowledge base for enterprises which have a social element or social purpose aligned to them.

Essentially, the types of organisations that will be participating in the programme are enterprises. And we term enterprise quite broadly. This might a non-profit, a for-profit, a hybrid of the two. It might be an NGO. It may be a privately owned enterprise, or state-owned, or a hybrid of the two of those.

So we classify that very broadly, and I guess the qualities that are looking for are that they are entrepreneurial, they are ambitious, they are driven, and very importantly, they are commercially minded.


SC: And so what do you imagine that the enterprises might do with the innovation that is introduced to them through the programme?

BV: Sure. So innovation generally is quite a vague term and is used to mean a lot of different things, and actually, in reality it occasionally means nothing. So the way we have defined innovation in this particular programme is that it may be a technology, it may be a product, it may be a service, or it may be an approach, and by approach, I mean a way in which you reach your customers, a way in which you tweak your process so that you are effective or efficient.

And a real-life example of this is an Indian innovator called SAS Poorna Arogya, who have developed a hub and spoke healthcare model, which allows them to access rural populations that otherwise don’t receive healthcare as quickly or as effectively. So that’s an approach. And we have also been working with Keg Farms, who have developed a new breed of chicken stock, which grows faster and yields more eggs.


SC: So David, if we step back a couple of weeks and look at the SEED Africa Symposium, can you give us an outline of what took place there?

DI: The SEED Symposium is an annual symposium that has been running for a number of years, designed to bring together social enterprises, that is enterprises that are trying to fill a social mission as well as earn their keep from sales, and intermediaries, those organisations who are working with those social enterprises. The timing of the symposium was great from our point of view because we wanted to do perhaps two or three launches, one in India which will happen at the end of October, and a launch in perhaps two or even three of our target countries.

So the timing was good from our point of view. It made it easier to attract enterprises to come along to the launch. And as so often with these symposia, they had a number of parallel sessions. They seemed to give us the biggest room, and far as we could work out, we certainly had the largest audience. We had room for 80 people to sit, and we had people standing at the back. So from our point of view, it was great.

And it was launched with the Head of DFID Kenya’s country office, along with a representative from Acumen, one of the potential impact investors for those business that do really well with a project, and a couple of businesses from India who had come to not only talk about what they are already doing and look for partners, but to stress the importance to them of working with partners in Africa and South Asia.


SC: And so Baiju, now looking forward to the future, what kind of support do you imagine that the programme will be providing to the enterprises that are participating?

BV: So as you rightly mentioned, this is three-year programme. We are going to provide in the coming month or so, a fully functioning marketplace, which is essentially a platform whereby enterprises can register their profiles, and these profiles will be on display to other enterprises.

And you will be able to search for suitable partners that may be of interest. And then really we will support to define what it is that you want to do and to articulate the opportunity really. And from that, we will support you in finding the right types of partners and really working out which partner is suitable for your growth plans.

We can provide some grant assistance in helping you meet each other, and that will most likely be having a South Asian or African enterprise travelling to India to visit the Indian innovator to see what they are doing.

If you are keen to proceed following that meet, we will provide you with the right type of advice and guidance to build your relationship and really define the proposition, what it is that you are going to do together.

And also the actual partnership arrangement — are you going to license a technology, are you going to franchise a model, are you going to launch a full-blown joint venture together? And all the sort of nitty-gritty elements within that.

This will all lead to you putting forward a proposal to our investment committee to request for grant and specific technical assistance to launch a pilot venture with yourself and your partner. And if successful, we will provide this grant support and technical assistance and support you along the way of implementing a pilot.

And those pilots that are successful, we will then support you to create a plan to scale your pilot and to then access finance to help you do this.

So really, this is a chain, a sort of path that enterprises go down to create a partnership, and our role is really to provide bespoke support throughout the journey to maximise your chances of being successful. This is not a challenge fund, there are no calls for proposals, there’s no set periods within which we request things.

There’s no unnecessary reporting burdens, and importantly, there’s no one-size-fits-all or technical assistance packages. It’s all dependent on working out exactly what it is you need and trying our best to provide it to you. Simple.


SC: And David, you had mentioned that there are ways for enterprises to learn more about the programme and actually to consider getting involved.

DI: Yes, we will be delighted. We are restricted to lower-income countries, but essentially, that gives us 40 countries that can participate. So we are looking for enterprises from any and all of those who would like to look for Indian partners with whom they can work. The website, which will give a lot more information and also provides the explanation of how to register is available at It is now up and running, although I have to say we keep on tinkering with it a little bit, and we will be delighted if any companies wants to register.

If people have specific queries and want to contact us by email before they register, then we are very happy to deal with those enquiries, and we will get back to them in due course, hopefully with a potential partner with whom they can start to discuss collaboration.


SC: Well, many thanks to Baiju today for being with us today, and many thanks to you David for joining us over Skype. This concludes today’s podcast, and we will be revisiting the Connect to Grow programme with another podcast in future to reflect on lessons learned. And finally, we’d like to thank you our audience for being with us here today. Do join us next time on the IMC Worldwide podcast channel hosted by SoundCloud.

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