By John Hoffmire

The beacon of development often conjures up images of radical innovations, disruptive models and leapfrog technologies. And yet, as nations attempt to embrace the promises of development, there is often a colossal failure of both imagination and execution in providing for even the most basic of human needs. Measurable social change, ensuring a degree of social equity and fundamental provisions, is critical in securing any significant socio-economic transformation. Pervasive deprivations and glaring inequities create a corrosive burden on our societies — violating our sensibilities and fomenting adversity.

This makes the decision of the CRISP (Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Program) scholars to set up CRISP Social Ventures India (“CSVI”) and CRISP Social Ventures Sri Lanka (CSVSR) all the more heartening. In addition to the CRISP cohort, the venture draws upon the collaborative energies of a range of professors and institutions such as the UK Business Council and the British High Commissions in India and Sri Lanka. To catalyse social innovation initiatives, CSV extends mentoring to help grow ventures with manifest social impact and incubates innovative ideas that can address critical social needs. With the overarching ambition of promoting substantive social development in both countries, CSV aims to develop a wide range of sectors to benefit marginalized communities in tangible ways.

CRISP, supported by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, is a custom executive education program for high-flying mid-career Indian and Sri Lankan professionals on the cusp of transition towards top leadership positions. With a customized 10-week-long approach, developed by St Cross College at University of Oxford, the CRISP program each year draws a group of exceptional professionals. The eclectic group usually has a fairly even mix of government officials, public and private sector employees, academicians and entrepreneurs. During their tenure of intense immersion in the corridors of the University of Oxford, the exceptional participants explore innovation and science policy from an academic, practical and personal perspective.

The thought-provoking learning environment, along with fruitful idea exchanges, aligns the energies and socially sensitized inclinations of the CRISP scholars. Through CSV, the CRISP scholars seek to marshal resources and galvanize actions to transform the social landscape. Realizing that the highway of economic growth and social advance cannot skirt the imperatives of ensuring basic social amenities and pragmatic, sustainable solutions at scale, CSV is currently supporting two projects: Powerhouse (India) and Yarl IT Hub (Sri Lanka).

Powerhouse has brought together a collaborative team of architects, engineers, renewable energy experts, policy-makers and financiers to help conceive, develop and deliver a holistic, modular housing solution for low to moderate-income people in India. The overarching goal is that these “net positive” homes, which create more energy than they consume, will also function as an economic development engine by selling excess energy back to the grid. The consequent income can help pay for part of mortgages taken to buy the homes.

Yarl IT Hub is a non-profit organization that has established an annual hackathon and a coding school in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Their hackathon was recently held for the eighth time. It has created more than 150 jobs through the 18 start ups run by alumni of Yarl Geek Challenge. And the coding school has the remarkable record of placing 95 percent of its graduates in jobs. On average, the graduates achieve an 800 percent increase in pay over the job they had prior to enrolling in the school. Past sponsors of the group include: Dialog, 99x Technologies, hSenid Mobile, WSO2, Edotco, and EAI Technologies.

Clearly, the scale of challenges that the CRISP scholars have taken upon their shoulders requires navigating multiple terrains, institutions, political equations and prevailing social codes. However, the “Chevening” qualities — ambition, drive and leadership potential, a commitment to change and organizational development, and a talent for innovation and creativity — primed by the learning and support of the CRISP program, equip them to successfully execute upon their ambitions.

Stay tuned to hear about more projects and efforts the CRISP alums bring forward in future months and years.

John Hoffmire is Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty. He also holds the Carmen Porco Chair of Sustainable Business at the Center.

Pankaj Upadhyay is a colleague of Dr. Hoffmire’s at the Center. Pankaj holds an MBA from the Said Business School at the University of Oxford. Pankaj wrote much of this piece.