God of Small Ecosystems

Conservation, Enterprise & Livelihoods is the mantra for a better planet, for a better relationship leading to a beautiful, balanced society

Photo of Pratim Roy
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Keystone Foundation

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $500k - $1m

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 50,000 - 100,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Water
  • Nutrition

Headquarters location: Country

  • India

Headquarters location: City

Kotagiri, Nilgiris district, Tamil Nadu

Location(s) of impact

India: States USA: Ithaca Bangladesh: Rajshahi, Thanapara Philippines: Manila, Kalimantan Indonesia: Bogor Nepal: Kathmandu Sri Lanka: Colombo



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Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve is home to diverse indigenous communities and rich in biodiversity, origin of river basins for 3 states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. A paradigm shift is needed in Rural Development in this Mountain Ecosystem. Risk of rampant urbanizing, large scale tourism, drying watersheds, out migration, devaluing ecosystem services is a threat. Finding local solutions to improve forest quality, local food systems, water conservation, restoration, enhanced skill development among youth is a priority.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Keystone Foundation started in 1993 after a honey hunters and beekeepers survey of Tamil Nadu. We based ourselves in Kotagiri and started work on honey bees - ecology, enterprise and livelihoods. Resource sustainability studies, market intelligence, rural technologies and local skill development were undertaken. Conservation, Enterprise and Livelihoods form the basis of our work and have potential of larger application. We federated the producers into a company, Aadhimalai and initiated a marketing company, Last Forest. Today these 2 companies do more than INR 4 crores/year, touching lives of more than 50,000 people throughout our network in India and South East Asia through the Non-Timber Forest Produce Exchange Programme. Keystone Foundation has incubated these organizations and developed research partnerships with leading Universities, eg. Cornell University, USA. Keystone works at both global and local levels, connects producers and consumers both in a market and a learning space.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

The direct impact of our work is seen in 89 indigenous villages spread across the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Members (1600) of the Producer company are direct beneficiaries of land and NTFP based value addition and local employment generation. Directly, with health, nutrition, traditional knowledge, land rights and capacity building the Foundation touches close to 25,000 people. Through networks, training and marketing support we impact another estimated 25,000 across India. The environmental impact is largely felt through promotion of concepts and research on sustainable harvesting, species conservation, restoration and improving the forest quality through local interventions like removal of exotics and monitoring with barefoot ecologists. Support to communities to maintain sacred groves, community forest harvest and traditional agriculture practices impacts have spread across Indian indigenous communities in atleast 9 states through NGO networks. The success is in its organic spread.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Keystone started the honey and beeswax enterprise in a small way through a SIDBI bank loan. Today the producer company and marketing company are self sufficient, making profits. This has made 2/3 of our work sustainable. The rest of the work related to knowledge building, research, skill development and new areas of work like health and nutrition is still supported by grants. Keystone Foundation remains the charitable wing undertaking this work. Grants are won through competitive process within Keystone. 90 % of funds in Keystone are through foreign grants.Keystone receives 10% money by national donors and CSR funds. Community benefit is realized by accessing government programs. This work will continue to be supported by combined contribution of grants, training fees and CSR in the future

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

The 3 aspects - conservation, enterprise and livelihoods - for the pillars for interventions and the innovative initiative. These are all embedded in every product or service thus symbolizing an ecological, equity and entrepreneurial consciousness, which is the USP of our project. The initiative addresses the poorest and remote communities, with ideas which support local resources and develop skills. A partnership between contemporary and traditional knowledge brings innovation.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Sitting on the banks of Podda river in Bangladesh - we thought about the concept of Keystone in ecology. Birds for example, making a permanent nest in a tree trunk to give room, space, habitat for other life forms to grow, innovate, build and create. Hence Keystone Foundation as a field-base working in the cross sector of ecology, economics, livelihoods - how can we create a model for the crores of people in South Asia which has built-in innovation, dynamism, appeals to the youth, is modern and works from first principle to be leading trend and path breaker in the society and environment. In other words, we redefined our lives and now 25 years we become in 2018. From a small nest, to a honey bee, pollination of ideas has led to this process.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Keystone continues to have field level presence in the Nilgiri Region addressing issues of biodiversity restoration, WATSAN, land tenure and land use, health and nutrition, apiculture and other livelihood options. At a strategic level these programs are linked to efforts towards advocacy and policy change. These learning is also contributing to research and field courses held at Keystone and in collaboration with Cornell University. The program also links and manages several networks around forest and indigenous people themes in India and SE Asia. New efforts in the program link to climate initiatives, specifically on enhanced direct access for communities. Each of these groups has their focus geographical areas working directly in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and throughout Eastern, Western Ghats & Central India. Dedicated teams are working in these programs with a mix of professionals, local skilled people and indigenous people. We are 48 persons in Keystone, from different walks of life. The team does research and implementation full time. We also work with 30-50 indigenous village volunteers who are key in delivering the program. Currently we work directly with 15000 persons and indirectly touch more than 50,000. Some of our key work is to build local capacities and act as a resource centre for the region on these themes of work. Local advocacy, enabling platforms for the community to engage with the government and developing technical knowledge are key enablers.

Focus area

  • Rural Development

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

Crux of our approach is the embedded-ness of ecological integrity into livelihoods creation and enterprise development in rural areas. Our work has expanded to several countries having similar conditions - natural resources - forests, water bodies, communities who are marginalized, poor and depend on rural livelihoods. In India our work has spread to several states in Eastern & Western Ghats and Central India. Forest Departments have incorporated our approaches, gets regularly trained in the CEL approach. Today we touch 50,000 people who are unique as they are indigenous communities whose lives are intricately woven by nature. Several of our holistic strategies, last mile connectivity, languages, youth empowerment has come out of this mix of local culture, contemporary context, science and technology and a robust value system.The holistic aspects and combinations of not only addressing livelihoods for income, but also as subsistence, health, nutrition, culture and traditional knowledge has been important. Looking at resources like water, forests and land and integrating them in strategies towards sustainable development is a key approach. This, combined with an enterprise spirit of self reliance brings a change that people adopt on their own. Our initiative has successfully combined and implemented these to bring equitable development in hill/rural areas and built local capacity.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

For 25 years Keystone Foundation has Created Shared Value. We have through our networks, collaboration, teams, marketing enterprise build a model for sustainable ecological development in the mountain ecosystems. We have constantly numerous groups from the Govt, Academia, Business that come to Kotagiri for training, immersion, not only in specifics but the whole holistic way of working and building an organization. In the past 25 years, we have restructured ourselves every 5 years to address new realities and engaging in positive ways. Capacity building of our local staff – adivasi, local people from the region and people from outside and internationally – this has been the lasting effect of social and ecological change to create shared value. Today we are linked to the Global Fund for Community Foundations, looking at communities that we work with and how we can create enhance their capacities through our organization. Market based approaches have influenced consumers and citizens.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

Currently, the producer company and marketing company are self sufficient, making profits. This has made 2/3 of our work sustainable. Keystone Foundation depends on grant in aid. As the production/sales aspects are hived off as different companies - Keystone does not support any program costs through sales. We have to win competitive projects and we align with the best partners in the world to win projects. We are working on a corpus, currently we have one from the Ford Foundation (1.8 crores), but this needs to be raised to 10 crores in the next 5 years. We are tapping the CSR groups in India and other International donor networks. In Keystone we also do consultancies, provide training, courses to raise resources for the Foundation.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

Water, Nutrition & Rural Development – in each of these areas we have been working at the field level for 25 years. If we win the CSV Prize, then we shall create a Shared Value for several partners in India, Africa, South Asia to enrich this learning, partner, create new alignments for scaling up our work and sharing our knowledge, practice specially in the area of Social & Ecological Enterprise. CSV has to be a bed rock of Enterprise that is transformative. We wish to create a Global Local Centre at Kotagiri through establishing the People & Nature Centre which will be the contribution of the CSV Prize.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

Last Forest Enterprises Private Limited and the Aadimalai Producer Company that has 1609 tribal families as shared holders will have a partnership with Nestle to develop a series of Green Ecological Health Shops and Retreats in different parts of the world. We have today robust International partners whom we can tap for a multi-national Creating Shared Value Initiative. Our work of 25 years will be an asset to build up on. We have had investment from Rabobank, SIDBI, Exim Bank, World Bank on several of our initiatives. With Nestle we will be interested in developing a craft, producer centre which builds skills on enterprise, value addition on social and ecological spheres.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

Keystone works with over 30 organizations in 9 states of India directly. We administer a small grants facility called the People & Nature Fund which has annual budget of 2 crores. We wish to expand this facility to reach out to partners in Africa and South & South East Asia. Inquiries have come from several groups in South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, our base in Manila for the Non Timber Forest Produce works through several community organizations. Cornell University would like to take up the model and take it to the larger network, connecting more areas of work, departments and faculty. https://blogs.cornell.edu/nflc/

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

48 people are full time staff. They are PhDs, Masters, Graduates, drop-outs in several disciplines – Rural Management, Business Management, Ecology, Botany, Psychology, Economics, Communications, Diplomacy. We have a Board of 8 members – all experts in their fields, consisting of technical and administrative people - former Secretaries of the Govt of India. As this initiative grows, we will encourage people to become social entrepreneurs. The Creating Shared Value Zone will provide the tool kits – ideas, inspiration, seed funds, training and capacity building, evaluation and monitoring.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

2017: Sir J C Bose Memorial Award for Designing of Appropriate Technology, Reviving of Organic Agriculture and promoting ‘Apis Cerena’ Beekeeping 2014: Amazing Indian Award - Times Now 2013: Jamanalal Bajaj Award for outstanding contribution in the field of Science and Technology 2008: Finalists BBC World Challenge

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

Keystone encourages leadership at all levels. There is no fixed format or path. Each one is encouraged to excel in their fields, be independent. We have an engaging mentorship program where each one selects their mentors amongst the team, sometime with exception from outside. Every month we have the Program Working Group, Staff Meeting and the Management Group Meetings. In each of these forums people take the initiative to grow, challenge themselves, unlearn and take up new challenges. Given the Keystone mixed ecosystem – diversity is our strength that we celebrate.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 33.3%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 33.3%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

2. Innovation

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Social and/or Environmental Impact

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

4. Financial sustainability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 100%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

5. Potential to Scale / Replicability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

6. Organizational Leadership

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

7. Potential for Creating Shared Value

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

Attachments (1)

Appropriate Technology for Rural Development.pptx

In-house Fabrications of Appropriate Technology for Village Production Centers.

1 comment

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Photo of Mouhamadou Moustapha Seck

Interesting project. Good luck.