Becoming a Social Entrepreneur & Creating Impact with GiveIndia Founder 2.0 & CEO Atul Satija

Atul Satija, Founder 2.0 & CEO GiveIndia chats with Amit Somani Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Listen to the podcast to learn about:

00:50 – Atul’s inspiration to step into the development sector

07:20 – How social entrepreneurs track their progress

10:14 – Technology’s role in the development sector

15:15 – What for-profit sector learn from the non-profit sector

19:30 – How GiveIndia is making giving better

25:18 - How to establish trust and ensure last mile impact

29:11 - How you can start contributing with just 1%

Read the complete transcript below:


Welcome to the prime Venture Partners podcast, today we have with us Atul Satija, co-founder of the Nudge Foundation, as well as the co-founder and CEO of Give India. Welcome to the show Atul.


Thank you so much Amit.


Atul, It’s a pleasure to be getting you on the podcast. You and I worked together briefly at Google many years ago. Since that time you have done a lot of other business stints, including InMobi and several other stints. So I’d love to just start off with what transpired your move to the social impact and not for profit kind of sector.


Amit, firstly thanks for having me here. It’s an honour to have this chat with the audience of the prime Venture Partners. So when we were together at Google, I was turning 30. I remember, now 15 years back,14 years back. And the idea was to use my 30s to think about the long term, sort of the second half of the work life design. And I started volunteering for a Delhi based nonprofit, given I was based in Gurgaon then.

And I think spending time in the slums and communities in Gurgaon and in the rural parts of the border of Haryana and Rajasthan over the weekend, I started feeling that it was more of a pull than the day job at Google back then. The problems were complex, deep, but also very human. And I started finding more meaning in that part of my time, during that time, two things happened. One, I discovered a part of me that was relatively unexplored, giving me the sense that I belong here, as much as I belong in the boardrooms and offices.The second part of it was, I was able to see that the skills I was building in my day job, were very useful in the nonprofit development work as well, which gave me the confidence that I can actually add value here.

Obviously, it took me another seven or eight years till I found the guts and the confidence and the courage to make the switch. But that was the trigger point for me to start thinking more seriously about the development sector. And it’s been six years since I made the switch and started Nudge in 2015. And it’s been a wonderful journey since.


So we got to double click a lot into Nudge as well as Give India. I want to just ask a little bit more, as you think about it, because all of us have this aspiration at a very core level to want to give back and do something and yet literally like one in a million like you, one in a hundred thousand does, like you really do. When you trace it back, was it just that exposure to the kind of work that you were doing in the slums or so on, or do you think it was something even deeper from before, maybe from your childhood, or college or family, or it was there, you just didn’t kind of see it, and it was just like a revelation?


Like you said Amit, it was more romantic childhood fancy to say that, once I retire also, or I’ll do social work, but you don’t feed all your ideas and your thoughts as you grow, right? I mean, they’re all there. And I think I used to tell myself that I will retire in my 60s and Dude it’s too far away to be uncomfortable with your current.

And you can still feed off the energy that it gives you that you’re a nice guy, because you’re thinking about it. I think as India did better than India did before, our careers did better than most of our childhood aspirations of careers were. I think it starts to give you more confidence that you can do it earlier. So I started feeding myself saying in my 50s, I’ll retire and do social work.

When I entered my 30s. The notion was sometime in the 40s, but still far away. But that volunteering experience is the one that shaped that more concretely, the root of that probably came from my father’s strong giving journey, not outside of the extended family. But within that, I grew up seeing my uncles and aunts being domestic help, auto rickshaw drivers, running a tea stall, and their kids, many of their kids had to sort of be supported by their father. And somewhere I think I borrowed that without sort of realising it. The desire to contribute.


Great, let’s talk about Nudge. And in particular, I’ll sort of try to put a lens from our listeners point of view, as the nudge foundation works with a lot of social impact entrepreneurs or development entrepreneurs. And I know that you in the past did some angel investing and yourself have worked at various startups small and large. What will make a social entrepreneur succeed? versus a “for-profit” or commercial? I’m sure there’s a lot of commonalities. But are there things that are different that you look for when you back them as a part of Nudge?


Amit, I think one fundamental difference is that the ecosystem around a social entrepreneur is very different from the ecosystem around a for-profit entrepreneur. And that makes a huge difference, because the amount of talent and capital available to solve a problem is very different in the ecosystems.

So perseverance and resilience needs are actually much higher here. Not that they are not in the for-profit world, but it is much higher here. That is one. Second thing that is very common to nonprofit entrepreneurs is that a large part of your work intersects with the government. Because ultimately, you’re solving the problems of society, which through taxpayers money, and even otherwise, the government has a responsibility for.

So in a way, you have to work with the government knowing that the problems in some sense set with them as an important shareholder of that problem. And that muscle is sometimes a choice in the for-profit sector, in the nonprofit sector, it’s not a choice. So the muscle to work with the government is very important here. I think in addition to these two, the third thing that we look for and is usually a self-selection filter is the level of empathy.

You want entrepreneurs to care very deeply about the work almost at a personal level. As an entrepreneur, you don’t take it personally, right? If business is doing well or not, to some extent, every entrepreneur does, right, that’s how you succeed, it has to be very deep in you. But here, it is also emotionally personal. You care about it so much that you can cry for it every day. It is that personal.

And I’ve seen that we don’t have to filter for that, because they’re giving up, in some sense, a lucrative corporate career, or a for-profit startup as a choice and come here, but that’s the thing that is very uniquely distinct in the development sector.


Very interesting. So let’s say you have a bunch of “Nudge backed” companies or not for profit organisations, how do you track their progress? And how do the entrepreneurs do it themselves? In the commercial world, you’ll have your usual business metrics, vanity, or otherwise, and so forth.

But here obviously, the number of lives impacted has got to be something quite obvious. But as you’re going along in the “Product Market Fit” equivalent, how do you know that it’s succeeding? Because obviously, if you do anything, and it helps one live, that is an amazing thing already. But you want to have an impact and you wanna have a broad impact. So how do you track that journey? And how do the entrepreneurs themselves do so?


So Amit, some of the things are very common borrowed from the for-profit sector, the leading indicators of downstream support, if we are funding a nonprofit entrepreneur with 15 lakhs and they are able to raise 2 Crores on the market, in five months of our incubation support, six months of our support, they start to be leading indicators that they are getting traction in some sense.

But there will be entrepreneurs who are smart storytellers, who can give you leading indicators much better than others who may have deeper impact, but they’re not able to sell their story. Not that that makes a skill of storytelling irrelevant, but you still have to go deeper in our world. The challenge is that the currency is very heterogeneous, unlike the for-profit sector, where you can look at your top line metrics, the bottom line metrics and decide what makes sense in that particular business and context and say we are okay to support.

Here, I think the way people look at the nonprofit sector is you have an input, you have a baseline sort of audience, you have a certain input and activities you do there is an output, there is an outcome of that output. And then there is an impact of that. For example, you are taking let’s say underprivileged youth into a skilling programme. They all learn, is your output, you run a skilling programme is just an activity and input into it. But that is not an impact that is not even an outcome that is just an output.

And the outcome is when they actually go and take a job. But if they are not able to save money, and the family is still in deep shit then there is no impact of it. Or let us say, the area has only 10 jobs, just because your skilled people got it ,means somebody else lost a job. It also doesn’t solve any societal problem.

So the tools are very different Amit, sometimes you do longitudinal studies to see whether from point A to point B, did you see improvement in their lives, sometimes you have to do it with a control group or comparison group to see whether compared to that audience is your intervention, audiences having better life outcomes, things like that. So there are tools available. Some are very sophisticated, some very simplistic, but I think depending on the context, you use different tools, there is no sort of easy answer there.


Got it. I can’t help but ask, has technology started to make inroads at least in the developmental sector in India? Or there’s just too much food and shelter and other issues that take us out of playing a minimal role so far?


Well I think it’s a very important question Amit, I spend a lot of my thinking and more than thinking the worrying time around it, because the opportunity that technology allows for social impact is immense. It’s very unique that you have a very large number of poor families in India with mobile and data access today.

Not everybody may be digitally super savvy to consume complex apps, but they are all digitally connected, they probably are, at least the younger generation is on some social media app or the other. So I feel that education, health, skill development and financial inclusion are the domains where technology has so much to offer. Obviously, there are certain domains like hunger, where technology may have a lesser role to play at the last mile.

But even there, you can imagine the supply chain problems and the upstream problems of having sufficiency of food available in the country, and wastages, and stuff like that, which can all impact the last mile. I can say it with and I think all of us can say it with reasonable confidence that 80% of all large scale social transformations in the country or 80% probability that every large scale social transformation will have technology at its core is not a very easy to defend argument, just knowing what you see in every domain, from farmers to animal husbandry, to scaling to job creation, to climate change, you take any societal problem, technology is pretty much at the core enabling that


That’s very, very heartening to hear. And I think that is probably the only way we can leapfrog from the current kind of situation to be more inclusive, to have more educated skilled youngsters, and so on and so forth. Let me switch gears a little bit, before we get to Give India to talk a little bit about collaboration between entrepreneurs.

And there are different schools of thought on the for-profit world, there are those like, it’s a very zero sum game for me to win, you have to lose etc. And obviously, there are plenty that are also collaborative, and there’s this whole spirit of conscious capitalism. Do you see a lot more collaboration because they’re all making a small dent into the problem or starting at a smaller level, whether it’s between the Nudge kind of back companies or even more broadly between you guys or between Give India and its “competitors” or collaborators? Like how do you see that play out in this world?


So Amit, as much as we all want to see collaboration happen as investors in social impact. The reality, unfortunately on the ground, is very similar to the for-profit ecosystem where the pool of money is very limited. You’re a hungry Tiger in a jungle, and there’s only sort of one deer you see.

So, everybody is trying to hunt down that one donor, which can allow you to do the work you want to do. So, collaboration is not much, much higher in the development sector that I thought I will see. Having said that, when the domains are different people partner a lot. So we are increasingly seeing something called collective impact.

For example, you want to improve the life of the waste pickers and their families in Bangalore. There are 15,000, roughly 12-15,000 rag picker families in Bangalore. But they have their kids who want to learn, let us say in Bangalore, Tamil in a school, but the government school only has kannada. So how do you pull resources for their kids to actually learn their mother tongue?

For example, as migrant families here? How do you make sure that their housing has sanitation, electricity and basic infrastructure required to survive in the city? They all live in Kucha, sort of slum dwellings here. How do you make sure that they actually have the local voice to be able to treat it well with authorities of all kinds?

So nonprofits are coming from the education domain and health domain and sort of urban governance domain. They all work together towards one problem, which is improving the lives of waste pickers in Bangalore. We are seeing collaboration happen in those ways where the funder is designing a programme where various nonprofits come and collaborate, which is very unheard of in the for-profit sector. But it is starting to be very visible in India, and it is a proven model that you’ve seen in other countries working in the development space.


Great. Let me switch gears and go to the flip side. Given that now you’ve been at this for six years, and you spent a good 15,17 years on fire in the end of the commercial world. Are there lessons from here that you have learnt that you would bring back? If you were to ever come back? I’d love you to advise or mentor other entrepreneurs in the for-profit world? Are there a few things that we could take from here?


Actually, many that I can think of. See one is, I have seen that and I briefly touched upon it briefly in one of your earlier questions is the average level of empathy that you see in a nonprofit work environment is easily four to five times of what I’ve seen before.

And I’ve been very privileged to work with really, really awesome companies like inmobi, Adobe, Google, one of the best workplaces. Even when I compare it with my past life, I see an average empathy level at Nudge, and Give India four to five times more. What that does is people generally care about the organisational mission at a very different level. That’s the reason why they’re there. But they are also because they generally care more, they are a lot more collaborative.

So I’ve seen that, if I were to sort of look at a for-profit environment today, as an advisor, board member, I think I cannot but say that selling the mission, in my mind is 100 times more important now than I used to believe earlier, I would say, look, here’s a job, people are coming for equity, they’re coming for salary, they’re coming for learning opportunities. We undermine how many volunteers we get from the same companies who are looking for meaning here.

Which means that if companies were able to sell the meaning of their work a lot more, you would see a very different level of workforce commitment, not just to the organisation, but to the problem you’re working on. So that is one thing, empathy and taking care of the employees and aligning them to the mission should be much, much higher in the priority order of companies.

Not just having good values that you put on the walls, but actually far more deeply caring about why you are there, what problem are you solving and why it is important. That is one thing that I think we always under invested in our previous life. I think the second thing is the level of focus on diversity, inclusion, respect for peers, sustainability of your decisions to the larger context of society, is something that comes very naturally to nonprofit work environments.

Because the conversation on the dining table or the lunch table is very, very high on those topics. And I felt that everybody probably in my previous life just cared as much about the same topics, but didn’t discuss because you’re discussing the prime sort of business objectives. But when people come back to your all hands anonymous service, they ask the same question.

I don’t think as an organisation, we internalise that need of the young workforce and millennials on seeing the organisation as somebody they can look up to with respect, not just for the business success, but also as a citizen in a larger ecosystem of society and country. I think that’s the other one, that’s very important. If you want retention, respect and long term commitment of the workforce. I think these are the two things that I would say, high empathy as well as a citizenship of the organisation into the larger ecosystem. For I would say that all corporations should focus a lot more.


Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with empathy. In fact, having been a product manager for many years, that was one of the things we would even evaluate when we were looking at people and and what you’re talking about is easily an order of magnitude higher than, if not more than what we would even look for.

Because if you’re designing products, or services for people that you’re not a part of, how deeply Can you connect with that context and so forth. And I love your point about being a part of the overall global citizen or societal citizen, not just your little company or your product or your sales quota kind of thing. I think that’s very interesting.

Atul, tell us about Give India, that’s kind of, one of the second innings or one of the parallel entrepreneurship, social impact entrepreneurship, things you’re doing and tell us about the work you’re doing there. And some of the lessons from that because that’s a large, big outfit in and of itself, so would love to hear about it.


Yeah, Amit when I was working on doing skill development programmes at the Nudge, I realised that a part of me was feeling bittersweet about the work in the nonprofit sector, second year of me starting Nudge and the root of that was the talent and capital. You’re used to talent and capital around you in the for-profit sector, especially in today’s time and with the opportunities that India is offering, a lot of capital is coming and encouraging talent to work on that.

The development sector doesn’t have as much of that. I realised that if the best engineers, the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best artists, the best journalists of the country are solving the most lucrative problems of society, but not the most important ones. What will happen is that you will have a drone delivery of salad in your window, before you will have a drone delivery of a medicine or a vaccine to a dying mother or a vulnerable community.

So how do you get talent to work on important problems? And I realised that inspiring talent is one way but an ecosystem fix to have capital availability for the talent to work on the problem is also important. And that’s when the idea of us creating a nonprofit incubator accelerator came in the second year of Nudge and solving for capital came in the third year and that’s how the Give India journey started.

So, the core of Give India is to solve for capital requirements to solve the most important problems of society, education, health, water, gender, climate change, agrarian distress all of those issues. When I was sort of thinking about the actual founder who started Give India in 2000 he and I bumped into each other and he said why don’t you take Give India’s Mission. thinking in this direction and building on top and that made a lot of sense to me.

And that’s how I sort of picked up the mandate of Give India and started investing in it. It’s been a wonderful journey. I realised how much giving appetite citizens of India In India, as well as the Diaspora globally has for India. Obviously, we are also in the times when, we have always sort of last one and a half years been thinking COVID at the top of every conversation we’ve had that also fuels giving a lot more, but four years back, Amit, when I picked up give India we donated 29 crores 25 crores that year, went up to 45 crores to 70 crores to 293 crores and this year will be 1000 crores of giving.


That’s amazing. That is supremely awesome.


And I realised that what surprised me within this journey is that there was obviously an innate belief that there is appetite to give. If you look back in India’s history, all the institutions, community parks, schools, people give right they say, okay, we don’t have this village Park, so let’s just pool money and do it.

People solve problems when they realise that we all want to live in a place which has x and you find that but the opportunity starts to disappear, the trust levels come down as we move out for opportunities into bigger cities and this mobility of people from their villages to cities, cities, to bigger cities, bigger cities to international cities, it’s not easy to get. So, that trust disappears, the convenience goes out the window, when it is just so much hard work to make giving happen.

So, we really think given days on, to do three things, bring trust back in giving, make it extremely convenient, and make sure that donors have the choice of what causes they want to pick to give. And essentially Give India at the core is trying to bring the trust of convenience and choice and giving. If you want to give for climate change, you should have an option to give it very conveniently in a very trustworthy fashion right away. If you want to give for hunger, if you want to give for a girl child education, a cataract surgery whatever it may be, we want to enable that to happen.

I think the other important lens of give India is that it is not just the amount of giving but also the impact that giving creates, so making giving bigger but also better. So when we work with institutions, organisations who have CSR budgets or foundations or family philanthropy, we want to make giving better for them, which starts to become complex because you need to measure what is happening.

Are midday meals increasing nutritional outcomes for children, or are they also increasing learning outcomes for children? The answer is very complex and the answer is not straightforward. You need to do randomised control trials over years with you know tens of thousands of kids to find that answer. So how do you make giving better is the other end we are also working on. Building capabilities to get answers to those is what we are trying to work with foundations and corporations on.

So that’s what Give India is trying to do. During COVID, Amit you know we had to get our hands dirty and find supply of oxygen supply of not just concentrators, plants, but also specific solutions like we partnered with Ola to launch O2 for India where you can actually order a concentrator at home for free and somebody in there in Ola cab will come and deliver the concentrator at home for you, and we can pick it up once you’re done. So we got into a lot of services, but essentially Give India will remain a giving platform just to make sure that we are focusing on making giving bigger and better.


How do you establish trust? So one is, of course, the governance and so forth. The other part that I always think about as even perhaps an individual donor, is the transparency and the last mile of that impact. I did it to get to what it was. In a platform like Give India, there is 1000 crores that you guys helped give? Now you’re like, I’m just donating a small amount for this cause, I want to make sure that happened. So what are some of the ways in which you kind of feed that back into people? And is that a big concern for many donors? Or is it more of a feeling of giving someone to give?


Yeah, Amit I think that’s probably the number one reason why people are uncomfortable giving, especially offline. When you go to let’s say, visit a hospice or orphanage or an elderly home, it’s very easy to see because you’re seeing people in front of you and you know the organisation you’re going to give, trust is very difficult in a remote setting, to create. And initially, we were worried about online payments, for example, that trust fortunately, technology solved for and all the other sort of progress we have made on the payments, as an ecosystem is solid.

But trusting is my money going to go, one in full what I’m giving for and actually do what it is supposed to, which is to impact somebody’s life, is it going to happen? How do I know? So as Give India, what we do is we have something called give assured, which means given the eyes assuring that the donors’ promises are being met by the NGO, which means you $100 all $100 go for impact.

And it is going exactly for what you gave for, if it is for midday meals or an education scholarship of a child or funding a cataract surgery or whatever it may be, we want to make sure that we know exactly what happened. And we are able to report back to the donor and confirm that it is happening.

For one time giving we do it through reports and utilisation reports, audit checks on ground visits. I have a complete team of 25 people that travels on flights and trains and buses. They sit on the top of a bus to go to a Naxalite area to see the NGO and the work on the ground. So we go to literally great lengths to find out what’s happening on the ground with the money that people are putting in.

And that’s an annual process. We have 228 NGOs that are assured. We know exactly everything about the organisation including the board, board relationships, annual audits, the funds, the overheads, the pricing of the programmes, is a stationary kit that they are giving to a child priced right? We go to that level of detail to make sure that we are solving for all the things that donors care about. That is one big way.

There are also ways where donors get a lot of trust, which is basically bringing the distance between the donor and the final person who’s benefiting from that to the lowest possible. While we can’t remove Give India from the equation or the nonprofit from the equation, because they’re adding value. But how do you make the donor and the beneficiary as close as possible? So this is what we call the beneficiary map programmes.

So if you’re sponsoring a child every month, we don’t let you choose the child because that is just unfair to a pool of children that are looking for help. But once you donate the money, we tell you that look, you are helping Aman in this village and UP.

And then every month you see that look here is Aman’s classroom reports for example, or the celebrations a child is doing when his or her birthday or festivals to what’s happening in the school overall. So we get the progress report at an NGO level at a school level at the child level, and map the beneficiary to the donor so they know exactly what’s happening with that person, which also builds a lot of trust. Because of that transparency.


Fantastic. As we come sort of close towards the end of the podcast, how can people both like Atul Satija of 32 years old, who is probably sitting in some startup or the founder of some company or whatever, get involved in more than just giving money? I mean, we talked about two extremes. There are slums of Gurgaons to now you, dedicating your life to this amazing and noble cause. How can people contribute in more ways than just money coming from the for- profit or even from the entrepreneurial, would love to hear some concrete suggestions from you.


So Amit, I have seen various models that people have used to contribute. One extreme is something that I’m very fascinated by which is the 1% pledge that organisations in the US started Salesforce, Atlassian. Many organisations have joined that worldwide, many of them now have a presence in India as well. Basically, it says that, as an organisation, I could be a startup, I could be a large scale organisation 1% of the organization’s top line, bottom line equity, bandwidth of the employees, whatever I choose, I will contribute to society, it could be just 1% of the employee time. Volunteer time that will go.

It’s a really, really sort of inspirational way to contribute as a startup entrepreneur. So, I would encourage all the startups you’re funding to consider a one person pledge, from their equity rodeos, to contribute to society. I think it puts a very strong anchor on the ground for the founders for the author to stay connected.

I know that it’s a big commitment, but a worthy one to consider for sure. Beyond that, we have seen many organisations, if they are not ready for that, at some point in time they do that. I’ve been very inspired by Ashish and book my show having ‘book a smile’ as an intervention where they encourage their customers to donate. The company is not profitable, but their customers come forward and donate one rupee two rupee when they book a ticket.

Make my trip has a very interesting checkout charity and a foundation. I’m sure with a past background, they are sort of fully aware of that. I have seen zomato in a very interesting way, acquired a nonprofit, invested in that and created feeding India, which does really, really good work. And during COVID, they did really amazing work. Nitin from zerodha started rain matter focusing on climate change.

So examples where organisations have gone beyond just taking pledges to also concretely start their giving journeys, Rahul from moglix announced the foundation just last week, for moglix as well. These are like sort of more concrete, big ways to do it. But I think many employees in these startups, for example, are also looking at ways to give back. And I’ve seen that what is easiest is in the long term, the most impactful. The hesitancy is very high, the barriers are very high.

So instead of trying to say that look till I find the most connectable cause slash nonprofit I will wait, is not going to work. My advice would be to make it extremely easy for you to just take a Sunday call to a hyper local nonprofits or search on Google Maps and just make phone calls and just go visit. The minute you start spending time it starts building on you and you discover whether it is for you or not. So volunteering is the most sort of concrete way.

Lot of nonprofits also benefit a lot from people from outside because that level of either technology skills, process skills, even just creative skills, sales, marketing, fundraising, are extremely beneficial to the nonprofit sector because the problems are difficult and complex, the resources are limited and the skills people bring are very useful. So volunteering, donating advisory board positions, one person pledges, all of these are potential choices that that exists


Fantastic Atul, I think we could go on and on but really inspiring both your story and the work you’re doing at Give India and Nudge. We are hoping that many people listen to this podcast and sign up on one or more of these things. And I’m sure it will be eternally more rewarding than chasing some vanity, we see the metric but thank you so much for being on the show.


Thank you so much for having me.

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