‘Vividh’, derived from the Sanskrit ‘Vividha’, is a word found in many Indian languages and means diverse and different.
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Vividh. We are delighted to begin 2022 with a newsletter on DEI.
Our purpose at Omidyar Network India is to help create a meaningful life for every Indian. We are particularly focussed on the Next Half Billion (NHB), a segment that broadly comprises Indians who are in the bottom 60% of India’s income distribution.
Our purpose of serving the NHB has inclusion at its core. We have spent over a decade working with entrepreneurs who focus on serving underserved, excluded, and disempowered segments. Over the last three years, we have engaged in internal conversations, introspection, and sensitisation on DEI. Amongst the several inspiring start-ups and non-profit entrepreneurs we are privileged to work with, there are several shining examples of leadership and strategic approaches to DEI. Notwithstanding all this, we feel we are only at the beginning of our DEI journey and we need to step up to do much more.
Early as we are, here are some of the things we have already learnt:
The Indian Constitution is one of the giant leaps in India’s attempts to promote DEI – it mandated universal adult franchise, banned untouchability, declared that all Indians are equal, and provided tools for the government to assist backward groups, women and children in becoming full members of society. Over the years, extensive research has suggested that promoting diversity even enhances the decision-making quality and financial success of enterprises. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has widened pre-existing inequalities, calls for even greater urgency towards realising the benefits of DEI.
With Vividh, we are seeking to foster vibrant conversations in the start-up, non-profit, funder, and policy communities, so that we can all learn and move forward together. We hope to sharpen the discourse on DEI by bringing voices, stories, and perspectives from our partners, leading thinkers, and the NHB themselves. We also want to bring in a strong practitioner lens – building DEI as a strategic lever in organisations, focussing on the “how to” and practical solutions, and developing an understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
Let’s talk. And let’s make it happen.
Finally, I would like to spotlight our ‘DEI crew’: Mahesh Krishnamurthy, Shalmoli Halder and Ruchi Hanasoge have worked through 2021 to bring the DEI conversation front and centre at ONI. They were joined by Aman Totla, Mercia Cordeiro, Ramya BM, and Rohan Vyavaharkar in publishing this newsletter.
Managing Partner, Omidyar Network India
I) Perspectives from our portfolio
Innovation spotlight – iMerit
Globally, the dawn of the Information Age in the mid-20th century has marked a significant shift from the traditional manufacturing industries established by the Industrial Revolution. Two-thirds of the Indian workforce, however, is still employed within the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, and Information Technology (IT) employs only a fraction of the one-third of the population working in the services sector. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that people lack the skills to be employed by the IT industry.
This is where iMerit comes in. Founded in 2012 by Radha Basu, iMerit, along with its skilling partner Anudip, is focussed on advancing key technologies such as machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence. Employees are trained in computer vision and natural language processing, so they can apply these skills across industries such as autonomous vehicles, medical AI, agricultural technology, geospatial and other robotics-based technologies. iMerit’s workforce, also known as “experts-in-the-loop,” leverages human intelligence and their skills, to convert unstructured data (video, images and text) to high-quality structured data for improving the accuracy of artificial intelligence applications.
iMerit currently employs over 5,500 people, often from underserved regions that only needed greater opportunities to flourish; over 50% of its employees are women. Due to the investment in learning and development the average family income for employees has grown 3x after employment with iMerit. Not only does the firm provide livelihoods to its employees, but it also connects them to the global digital economy, thereby working to ensure that India’s large workforce is properly skilled to be successful in the future. iMerit promotes diversity and inclusion by creating employment in economically less-developed geographies where IT jobs are rare. It also hires women to fill a majority of these jobs.
For more on iMerit’s perspective on the future of the AI workforce, watch Basu’s ONward talk below and read this New York Times article.
The downside of privilege – Vishal Talreja, Co-Founder, Dream A Dream
We loved this reflective piece by Vishal Talreja, a co-founder of Dream A Dream, which uses a creative life-skills approach to empower young people from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and flourish in a fast-changing world. We’re often reminded to check our privilege, but this is easier said than done. By recounting three distinct experiences, Vishal encourages us “to accept that my privilege and the skills and allowances that come with it is the problem and not the solution. To learn to step back and listen rather than jump to solve.”
II) DEI Voices: Hear from the community
Guest Author: Rajan Mani,
Executive Director of the Advocates for Public Justice Foundation
On Fostering Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities
It is estimated that 70-80 million Indians live with physical or intellectual disabilities. In 1995, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, India enacted the ‘Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act’, to empower persons with disabilities to be part of the social mainstream. The Act was enhanced in 2016. However, like many other welfare laws in India, implementation has been uneven.
Our organisation, the Advocates for Public Justice Foundation, is focussed on building capacity amongst persons with disabilities and their organisations for affirmative action. Our Disability Law Initiative project takes recourse to impact litigation and provides legal awareness and training to ensure that the Act is implemented in letter and spirit to its fullest extent. We have secured several landmark judgements from the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.
We believe it is important to enable people with disabilities to live full lives. We look at what we do as justice, not charity – and that is the way we would implore anyone to look at affirmative action and related DEI efforts.
We are trying to build, in the remarkable words of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court, “a generation of disabled people in India which regards as its birthright access to the full panoply of constitutional entitlements and robust statutory rights geared to meet their unique needs and conducive societal conditions needed for them to flourish and to truly become co-equal participants in all facets of life.”
We encourage you to read the more detailed version of this article here.
LGBTQ inclusion advocate and former head of the Godrej Indian Cultural lab
On inclusion in the workspace
We invited Parmesh Shahani, a well-known author, LGBTQIA inclusion advocate, and former head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, to speak to our team. His talk prompted deep reflection, with one of the important takeaways being that if one’s organisation does not look like the diverse world outside, such as in terms of gender, religion, sexuality, PWD, or caste, there is more work to be done on recruiting and fostering inclusivity.
Parmesh spoke candidly about his experiences – from discovering his sexual orientation as a young boy to founding the Godrej India Culture Lab, an experimental space that cross-pollinates ideas and people to explore what it means to be modern and Indian. All in all, it was a remarkable and honest session on discrimination, the challenges for equality, and more.
You can explore more of Parmesh’s thoughts on inclusion and LGBTQIA rights in his recently-published book, Queeristan, and an interview he did on the podcast Lit Nama, here.
III) Ideas for practitioners
Make a commitment
As the common adage goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Over the last couple of years, we had many discussions on the importance of DEI to ONI’s work. We have now made our commitment to DEI public in the form of a promise to our partners and our team, published on our website. We have developed specific goals to further strengthen gender diversity at ONI – of reaching 50% women on our investment team while layering in other axes of diversity. In addition, we are exploring how to pursue other axes of diversity in a more meaningful manner.
Conduct workshops to start the conversation
Workshops can be a fun and engaging start on thinking about the concepts about DEI. Here are a couple that we tried:
Serein: Unconscious Bias training
We wanted to start on our DEI journey by understanding how diverse our own team is. We walked the talk on this one – quite literally! The excellent team at Serein, an organisation that partners with companies to promote diversity and inclusion, facilitated a “privilege walk” for our employees to reflect on our personal and professional journeys individually, along with several other games and exercises to uncover our unconscious biases. Not only did this help us start the DEI conversation, we also bonded as a team along the way!
Serein: Solving a murder to understanding biases
The chance to learn about our biases while also honing our investigative skills? Yes, please!
We played a game called ‘Murder on the Cliffside’, also organised by Serein. While we unlocked our inner Poirots, we realised that we were often misled by our implicit biases, such as the “halo effect” which causes us to let positive impressions in one space influence our impressions in other spaces.
You can read more about Serein’s take on the ‘Fate of D&I without ‘E’quity’ here.
IV) What we’re reading
DEI: Start here
If you’re unsure where to begin your DEI journey, this academic review authored by professors at William Patterson University and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad is a great place to start. And even if you’re well on your way to becoming a DEI ninja, this paper might be helpful to bookmark for new teammates as they join, or as a reference for the future! We especially liked the list they curated of the values, knowledge, and skills that enable leaders to foster inclusive workspaces.
Making ‘good’ people better
If you weren’t a convert already, we hope that this newsletter has made you curious enough to get started with some DEI initiatives at your organisation. But it is difficult to align our behaviour with our intentions if we are not aware of our implicit biases. Enter ‘Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People’ which attempts to make visible our unconscious biases. Go forth and discover!
We hope that this newsletter will help spark conversations around the opportunities and challenges of pursuing DEI and enhance our collective capabilities to realise its benefits. And to enable that, we’d love to know what you thought about this newsletter.
If you have a perspective or experience to share, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, please share this newsletter with anyone who you think might be interested in this topic. And if you found this newsletter useful, do encourage your friends to sign up here for future editions.