Redefining the Meaning and Future of Work with Social Capital Credits
Digitally empowering marginalized people and making community-oriented labor profitable with the community currency for social good
Yes, I fulfill all of the eligibility criteria.
Initiative's representative name
Dr. Geeta Mehta
Initiative's representative date of birth
Feb 17, 1952
Initiative’s representative gender
Which eligible market are you based in?
Where are you making a difference?
India: Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh
Website or social media url(s)
When was your organisation founded?
Helping people adapt to technologies of the future
Financial skills and capability
Reskilling and upskilling the workforce
Creating digital tools
Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)
Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed
Although my heart always ached at social injustice and abject poverty that I witnessed in India where I grew up, I did not think I could do anything about it till I happened to meet Dr. M.S. Swaminathan in 1999. This renowned humanist and scientist of the Green Revolution asked me what I was passionate about. When I told him that I was an architect, but really wanted to work in development, he asked me to come and visit the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation’s project sites with him. Seeing the work they did in Tamil Nadu and the amazing transformations they could make in the lives of entire communities, especially for women, set my mind on fire and from that fire Asia Initiatives was born.
2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?
Individuals from marginalized populations need access to jobs, but we also need to redefine the nature of work to value and include the true needs of societies and the planet. The current definition of ‘work’ as a way to make money and feed a consumerist frenzy has already hurt our planet irreversibly. As AI and robotics further marginalize unskilled people, we need a mechanism to incentivize work that strengthens our society and environment.
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Social Capital Credits (SoCCs) is a community currency that incentivizes social good. The methodology, which has been a regional winner of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, a winner of the Government of Andhra Pradesh Happy Cities Competition, and as a finalist for the Buckminster Fuller Award, has been successfully implemented in 18 sites. Participants earn SoCCs by performing acts of social good, like planting trees, tutoring peers, or cleaning up neighborhoods. SoCCs can be redeemed for critical skill empowerment resources, like digital literacy sessions, English speaking classes, career counseling, occupational training and job placement. People helping their communities the most become SoCC-stars and become eligible for grants and mentorship to start businesses. SoCCs uses persuasive technology for behavior change through its app and web platforms, which enable users to earn, redeem, and exchange SoCCs anywhere, at any time, with nudges, notifications, and incentives to do acts of social good. The core strength of SoCCs is that it allows social capital to be measured and exchanged as liquid capital for those blocked out of the financial system to gain skill empowerment.
4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?
SoCCs leverage the existing social capital of communities and focus on the issue of access to services that people actually need, as opposed to the delivery of services considered important by an external donor. This entirely changes the ecosystem of what kinds of training and skilling sessions will be available to marginalized populations. One of our SoCC-Stars is a young woman named Geetanjali, who had to drop out of school at an early age. Geetanjali earned SoCCs by signing up 15 children in her area for school, and redeemed SoCCs for digital literacy and skills training. She is now gainfully employed, an example that shows how SoCCs brings together the goals of individual advancement and community upliftment.
5. Employability: how is your organization or project teaching people to develop the skills that they need to survive in the future job market?
Asia Initiatives has implemented SoCCs to improve both employability and financial capacity. In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, we have set up thirteen gender resource centers to serve 1,200 adolescent girls living in the difficult conditions of informal settlements. Girls earn SoCCs by tutoring other children in their neighborhood and redeem them for digital literacy and English skills training that make them attractive to employers in the region. They can also use SoCCs to gain placement in government skills training and job placement programs that guarantee employment after completion of the program. We also set up Village Knowledge Centers (VKCs) with computer labs and training that cater to youth, women and women. VKCs connect rural villagers to a world of information and give them skills that they would not otherwise be able to access and equip them with valuable skills.
5a. Please describe which future-oriented skills your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress
Digital literacy and English skills training oriented SoCCs programs are measured in the long term by job placement rates and in the short term by participation rates and test scores. Girls education programs are measured by attendance rates taken by schools. Data on SoCCs earning and redeeming is collected for every project, analyzed, visualized, and shared with participating communities.
6. Financial capability: how is your organization or project creating innovative solutions that arm people with ability to optimize their current and future financial health
SoCCs multiply the impact of microfinance and agricultural programs that improve the financial resilience of marginalized communities. In Bundelkhand, India, women can attend health camps and sanitation training in order to earn SoCCs for microloans to purchase chicks and goats, which produce eggs and milk that can be sold. This provides a buffer for families that are currently entirely dependent on rainfed agriculture that can easily be devastated by drought or changes in weather patterns. The innovative aspect of both financial and employability programs is that they incorporate incentives for social good, multiplying the impact of each development dollar and nurturing strong societies. The community currency aspect enhances financial resilience, as it allows individuals to exchange basic services like house repairs, rides, child care, tutoring, and without using precious cash.
6a. Please describe what aspect of financial capability your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress.
Robust impact measurement is built into the SoCCs concept, since each act of social good and each redemption is automatically recorded and analyzed. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are tracked carefully according to what is relevant in each project. KPIs for microloan SoCCs programs are measured by loan repayment rates and increases in income. Organic Farming SoCCs programs are measured by crop output increases and digital literacy training oriented SoCCs programs are measured in the long term by job placement rates. Additionally, data collection on SoCCs is constant across all projects.
7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?
No other organization is addressing the problems inherent to the future of work by radically redefining the concept of work itself in the same manner as Asia Initiatives. However, incentive-based development methods have been shown to increase impact by as much as 600%. There also are other community currencies, like Bangla-pesa and Time Banks, which have seen some success in increasing revenues for small local businesses, but have not been able to move beyond hyperlocal communities. We are exploring blockchain technology to create a global medium of exchange based on social capital.
8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Our theory of change is that the social capital of communities, whether they be wealthy or marginalized groups, can be leveraged to access digital skills and other capabilities needed to succeed in the digital economy. Our nine active projects serve 24,000 people currently and Asia Initiatives has served over 50,000 people in a wide range of communities over the past twenty years. Examples of this work are in Bundelkhand, India, where women plagued by drought and food insecurity have stepped up to take leadership in water advocacy organizations, earning SoCCs to gain digital literacy and create kitchen gardens. In another project, AI started supporting the women’s cooperative Ruaab SEWA based in New Delhi in 2015, before the innovation of SoCCs. Within one year of implementing SoCCs, our impact doubled in every indicator.
9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
Current funding comes from three sources: consulting revenue from international donor organizations to implement SoCCs, private donations, and grants from foundations and corporations. We are also developing a new product called CorpSoCCs, which will engage corporate employees around the world to earn SoCCs through local volunteering. Since we are serving a financially upwardly mobile segment of the population, we also expect some advertising revenue through the SoCCs App and Web platform. We also see the possibility of governments using SoCCs for large scale impact, and the resultant funding. The government of Andhra Pradesh and Mayor's Office of Curridabat have already implemented SoCCs and there is opportunity for further advancement.
We conduct our work in partnership with local partners who we train and collaborate with on a weekly basis. At present we are working with ten partners who employ an average of 30 full time staff each. Implementation of SoCCs is carried out by our HQ with 4 full time staff and 3 part time staff, and 10 board members who are actively involved. As the SoCCs app is launching this year, we are hiring new staff with experience in user interface, backend app development, and product launch strategy.
Help Us Support Diversity! Are you a member of an under-served , under-represented, or marginalized group in your country of residence? (yes/no) (this question is optional – if you choose to fill it out, the response will not be shared with your fellow contestants)
If you selected “yes” to any of the categories above, please explain how being a member of this group has impacted you and your work?
When I visited field sites in Tamil Nadu, I always asked people what they did for a living. While men proudly claimed themselves as farmers, when women were asked the same question, they said that they did “nothing." "Nothing" meant waking up at four in the morning to fetch water, cook, care for their family, and work all day in the fields. Here I learned that all the work women do for their communities is made invisible, which inspired my focus on social capital in research and implementation.
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