• A Quartet Of Women Create Platform For India’s Development Sector

    Four women are the masterminds behind ‘The India Development Review’, India’s first independent online media platform for leaders in the development community. It has been produced in partnership with Ashoka University’s Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy.

    Combining their skills from journalism, business, communications and the development sector, Smarinita Shetty, Rachita Vora, Sangeeta Menon, and Devanshi Vaid came together to start the venture earlier this year. We speak to Sangeeta Menon about her startup journey.

    Sangeeta Menon’s journey:

    Menon started her career at The Economic Times, where she spent more than three years. She then shifted to Business India, after which she was part of the startup team at Netscribes. She switched gears after she moved to the Middle East, and started working in aviation marketing.

    After moving back to Bombay 7 years ago, she took up a job in the communications department at Tata Sons. She said that she used to always talk about doing something with an impact. Last year, she got talking to one of her friends who had worked in the development sector for 10 years. She brought two of her colleagues along and that is where the idea of IDR was born.

    Filling a gap in the market:

    “There is so much happening in the non-profit and development sector, so much innovation, but still the information landscape and insights come from the west. We have nothing rooted in our context, and that is the gap,” Menon says.

    A lot of readers of international publications such as SSIR, NextBillion, Alliance Magazine come from India, says Menon.

    All our information is trapped in the organisation’s or in a leader’s head. The question became how to get it out there so that it can be used and put back into the system to strengthen it.

    IDR is an independent media platform which aims to get experiences from different stakeholders in the sector, be it NGOs, consultancies, philanthropists, or field workers

    From idea to execution:

    From the time the four women started talking to the launch date, they have interviewed over 50 non-profit heads in India to identify the gap in information. They also realised that in a time-pressed world, information needs to be provided in snack-size bites.

    Ashoka University was one of the earliest partners to buy into the concept. The company also received funding from investor Ashish Dhawan.

    It launched as a Section 8 non-profit company two weeks ago.

    On creating valuable content: 

    The idea is to raise the level of discussion, and so every piece of content is curated. Articles center around real solutions to problems. For example, pieces could be about how monitoring and evaluation is done, how to raise funds, how to implement corporate social responsibility.

    We always try and go to the person who can give us the best answer based on information gaps we have mapped, says Menon.

    Key challenges:

    “The key challenge was funding,” says Menon.

    The women wanted money at the seed stage, and selling the idea proved difficult since investors typically like to see a proof of concept.

    Smarinita says that nobody wanted to be the first one to fund the idea. Everyone asked them if anyone else was funding the project. Funding or not, the four women were determined to start. Luckily, they did find like-minded investors.

    Menon says that even when they raised funds, they didn’t know whether to shout about their achievements. Then they thought that a group of men wouldn’t hesitate to talk about their achievements.

    The future of IDR:

    “For the next three years, we are going to work on becoming a dedicated space for knowledge for the sector. We want to focus on creating robust, quality content, and be the go-to place for development,” says Menon.

    Also Read: IIM-Bangalore to launch incubator for non-profits startups

    Pic credit:  Aditya Krishnamurthy