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Making it happen: Akshara Foundation

Anil Swarup

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In my recently released book, “Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant”, I point out that when I was posted as Secretary, School Education Government of India in 2016, “I was the most ‘uneducated’ person to handle this sector” for want of experience in this field. Word soon went around about my ‘illiteracy’. Hence, there were those quintessential advisors who trooped in to advise me. The advice primarily was to learn from Finland, England, Holland, Scotland, New Zealand and all the lands of the world but I chose to go around ‘Motherland’ to understand the problems that afflicted school education and to look for solutions. One such visit was to the interior areas of Karnataka where I ‘discovered’ one of the many solutions to poor quality of school education and an organization that was making-it-happen despite all the problems. It was truly inspiring to say the least.

Akshara Foundation was established as a Public Charitable Trust in March, 2000. It was founded on the belief that quality education is the undeniable right of every child. A tripartite partnership between the government, the private sector and the voluntary sector was conceived

Bangalore was on the cusp of becoming the next Silicon Valley as Y2K rolled in. However, the irony was that enrollment in government schools had dropped drastically. This was a serious cause for concern. It could spiral out of control. Hence, there was something to be required to be done. It was then that the Karnataka State Education Department took the initiative to rope in the corporate sector to tackle this problem. Critical role was played by Upendra Tripathy, an IAS officer (the then Commissioner for Public Instruction) in the creation and evolution of this unique Public-Private Partnership (He was the Settlor of the Trust) with participation and investment from the Corporate Sector, the Karnataka State Government, and the local donor community in Bangalore. More recently, it was Ajay Seth, State Education Secretary and one of the finest IAS officers who helped this model scale.

Akshara has developed its own individual identity, credibility and vision over the years. In 2003-04, Ashok Kamath, a very successful corporate professional, decided to leave it all behind and give back to society. He joined Akshara as the Manging Trustee and became the Chairman in 2008, after Rohini Nilekani his predecessor. Akshara has gone from strength to strength under his able leadership.

Since its inception in 2000, Akshara has run multiple programmes (Akshara Ganitha for Math; Swalpa English Thumba Fun for English language; Prepare Not Repair for Preschool Education; The Classroom Library) that are designed to be comprehensive, scalable, replicable and cost-effective. The Foundation has always believed that for a programme to be successful, it must be scalable. And all efforts have always been designed with this in mind.

After three years of evaluation, the unambiguous success of the Akshara Ganitha programme resulted in it being adopted by the Karnataka State Government as the in-class programme for mathematics for grades 4-5. Phase 1 in the scaling up saw it being implemented in the six districts of the Kalyana Karnataka Region (formerly Hyderabad Karnataka Region – about 7,600 schools). This was quickly followed by adding an additional six districts, and, now every government primary school in every district in Karnataka uses this programme which has been christened Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA). In 2017-18, officers of Odisha Government, led by visionary Education Secretary, Ranjana Chopra saw this programme in action in Bangalore and wanted to replicate it in Odisha. Within a short span, the programme has scaled to cover all schools in two districts and from 2020-21 the infrastructure in the form of kits and teacher training has been created to extend this to all schools in Odisha. In 2018, Andhra Pradesh replicated this programme as Ganitha Mitra and this is now implemented across 5,500 schools in Andhra Pradesh. The programme now impacts over 4 million children across the three states.

Across three states, the government has been the anchor for GKA with consistent and strong support from Akshara Foundation and the local communities. The three state governments have also invested significant amounts in procuring teaching / learning material (TLM) kits (the procurement was done through a competitive bidding/ tendering process – it is also essential to note that Akshara does not sell any kits to anyone – they encourage smaller companies to build quality product), teacher training, etc. Several companies have supported Akshara to manage this activity by having field support across the districts and to continuously innovate and come up with better solutions that can be quickly adopted into the GKA model.

Since 2017, Akshara has been making investments in creating digital versions of its classroom products. The design for this was specifically targeted to low-end Android phones, did not depend on continuous Internet connections and was linked to the National Curriculum Framework. Moreover, this was a FREE product and available in nine languages. This is Building Blocks – and over the past couple of years, there have been nearly half a million downloads and since each download can support up to six children (using an avatar concept), potentially this has reached to over a million children. In 2019, Building Blocks was unbundled and made available as individual “gamelets” on state Diksha platforms and linked to energized textbooks using QR codes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted multiple facets of education, especially in government schools. There is a fear that once the schools reopen, the gains of universal enrolment through the Right to Education Act will be lost as an estimated 8-22% of children may dropout due to poverty and displacements.

Governments are faced with the double challenge of a) physical training of teachers where social distancing will be an issue and b) keeping children engaged and learning with schools likely to remain closed until the situation gets better.

However, at Akshara this was seen as an opportunity for a better tomorrow. There is one important feature that has been absent or at the most, very low key in the government school front – Digital Infrastructure. Much of India’s ‘ed tech’ sector has been restricted to innovations for urban schools with fee paying capacity and irrelevant for state run schools with basic infrastructure challenges. These infrastructure problems need unique disruptions and not just incremental efforts to make them affordable and accessible to children studying in government schools.

With the uncertainty of reopening of Government schools, this year Akshara has shifted focus from classroom based intervention to technology-based support for teachers and children.

Ashok Kamath and his committed team at Akshara have demonstrated that, irrespective of set of circumstances, they could make-it-happen. They could do it because of their vision, positive outlook, belief in themselves, meticulous planning, never-say-die spirit and by leveraging public-private partnership.

Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.

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Policy & Politics

LONG INTERVAL NEEDED FOR SMALL BUSINESSES TO BOUNCE BACK

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The effects of COVID-19 were on all the sectors but it dreadfully impacted the small business and entrepreneurs. The widespread closing of stores and businesses in India and around the world due to the coronavirus is unprecedented. Stores, factories, and many other businesses have closed by policy mandate, downward demand shifts, health concerns, or other factors. Many of these closures may be permanent because of the inability of owners to pay ongoing expenses and survive the shutdown. The impact on small businesses around the world is severe.

The survey, conducted by data firm Dun & Bradstreet has shown 82 per cent of businesses have experienced a negative impact during pandemic year. The survey was conducted among over 250 companies, evenly split between the manufacturing and services industries, having a turnover of Rs 100-250 crore yearly.

Over two-thirds, or 70 per cent, said it will take them nearly a year to recover demand levels prior to Covid-19. Over the past year, India has emerged to be one of the worst-affected nations globally by the Covid-19 pandemic. The resultant lockdowns, which are springing up again across the country with rise in cases, have an impact on the economic front as demand disappears along with a dip in income generation.

Post-Covid, the majority of small businesses have been looking to sell themselves due to issues such as health issues, lockdown-related challenges, working capital issues, etc. Even as small businesses were hit hardest due to Covid, which reportedly led to the closure or temporary shutdown of some of these units, there is no official data on the number of such shutdowns.

Micro and small enterprises are looking to sell themselves, the scenario at the ecosystem level seems to be moving towards recovery. However, beauty & wellness, which included salons, apparel, footwear and jewellery were yet to catch up to the pre-pandemic levels of sale.

The Government realizes the difficulties faced by the business owners and start-ups to establish and run them. To ease the burden and encourage new business setup and startups, the Government has launched various schemes for business. The Union Government of India has launched schemes specifically for helping the business in India.

While it was difficult for smalll business to survive, as the consumers remained home to stop spread of virus, many had to go creative to run their business. Although many failed, others survived using their innovative operation plans .

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Policy & Politics

REVERSE THE 32-YEAR EXILE OF KASHMIRI PANDITS

Kashmiri Pandits are longing to return to the Valley

ASHOK BHAN

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If there is a consensus across all the national and regional political Parties in the Country that is for safe & secured return of seven hundred thousand exiled Kashmiri Pandit Community back in the Valley-Their Homeland.Why the current union and LG government does not act to facilitate the return,rehabilitation and empowerment of these aborigines natives back to their roots in Kashmir Valley is a big question.?This is the right time to Reverse their exile and restore their rights of life,liberty and spiritual heritage in their homeland.They urge the PM Act with large hearted ness and with pride to respect the national consensus.Modi Government needs to plan a time bound return action plan and demonstrate statesmanship as the late Prime Minister -Inder K. Gujral who said: “If the nation’s coffers have to be emptied for dignified return and rehabilitation of this illustrious community back in the Valley, still it would be a lesser price for their contribution towards modern Indian State.

It reflects badly on the current regime that Kashmir today is without Kashmir Pandits. Realities are, at times harsh and strange. Kashmiri Pandits, the aborigine of Kashmir, are out in exile, in this modern age of reason and enlightenment. The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, designed to effect the motivated ethnic cleansing, will go down in the history of these aborigines of Kashmir as a continuation of the persecution and genocide facing for hundreds of years and the atrocities were peaked during despotic rule of Muslim tyrant kings.

Acute fear and scare had been created which gripped the Kashmiri Pandits from September 1989 onwards after killings of prominent members of the community.

The local government abdicated its constitutional duties and left the citizenry at the mercy of the terrorists who killed scores of Muslims and Pandits.Gun wielding terrorists had a free play.Killing one and scaring a thousand was the strategy of terrorists for selective Pandits. in 1989-90 an orchestrated campaign was unleashed on the loudspeakers of mosques around -“O Kafiro Kashmir Chod Do. Pandits started feeling what they had felt when hounded by Afgans in the second half of the 18th century —-The killers roamed around unchallenged that created fear and dread in the city. The aborigines native exodus was engineered under a concerted plan scripted and executed by the local terrorists that created death,destruction and disorder dominant around.

The terrorists maimed, killed, lynched and looted a large number of Kashmiri Pandits. The terror-stricken Pandits ran for life, leaving their homes and hearths behind them.

They sought refuge in Jammu, Delhi and elsewhere in the country. The cleansing process was completed and now the Kashmir Valley has a very small number of Kashmiri Pandits

How will the present as well as future generations realise that Kashmir is the keystone of our heritage through millennia, finding mention even in our oldest scriptures?

Kashmiri Pandits have rich heritage and their roots are engraved in the soil of the Valley for more than five thousand years which can neither be destroyed nor obliterated by any power,more so by unleashing terror and vicious campaign. But the ground reality in today’s free India and new age of enlightenment is —Aborigines Kashmiri Pandit Community is in exile for last thirty two years(32yrs)

Kashmir was considered the abode of Saraswati, the highest seat of learning in India, and was also referred to as Sharda Peeth. So much so that students on graduating from Kashi would take four symbolic steps towards Kashmir, denoting their aspiration for higher learning. Almost the entire body of Sanskrit literature has its origins in Kashmir.

Rajatarangini, an authoritative historical tome on the royal lineage of Kashmir, written by Kalhana in the 12th century, outlines the greatness of King Lalitaditya, possibly the most powerful Indian emperor of all times, whose kingdom in the 8th century extended from the Caspian Sea in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south, and included Assam in the east. How many Indians have even heard his name? How many of us know that Srinagar was established by Ashoka the Great?

Mahayana Buddhism was spread across mid Asia, China and Japan by Kashmiri monks. Patanjali gifted his yog sutra to humanity his. Sarangadeva is considered the father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music. Acharya Abhinav Gupta, one of the greatest scholars of all times, wrote 46 literary classics, including the renowned Abhinav Bharti. His principles of ras are being taught in 80 universities around the world. But the irony is that they did not get any respite even in the bright days of the enlightened times, especially in the post-independent days of India.

Whatever be the vicissitudes of their history all pale into insignificance when we look at their present plight. The colossal crisis through which the exiled community or for that matter the entire Kashmiri society is passing through is in reality the crisis in the country’s great values — the perversion in practise of its constitutional jurisprudence, the socio-political and moral norms.

The native Kashmiris have entered in the 32nd year of exile. Pandits are longing for return to their roots. They say bidding farewell to the soil they have sprung from is too traumatic as experience to be conveyed in words. They always say — “we love our homeland and every inch of its bounteous soil has nourished us all”.The everyday resolve of these hapless Kashmiris is — strive, struggle and stop not till the exile is reversed and they return back to their homeland on their own terms.

The successive Central as well as state governments have done precious little for the return and rehabilitation of this community, which has contributed in a big way to the freedom struggle of India against the British imperialism, and also to the national reconstruction in the post-Independent era. It is a community whose history generates envy at their achievements as well as sorrow at their plight today. The long history of these exiled Kashmiris has been of triumphs and tragedies. The antiquity of the Kashmiri natives and its Aryan origin are well established. Human memory is short and so is, unfortunately, the memory of our leaders, especially of the current dispensation. It was I.K. Gujral as Prime Minister who said: “If the nation’s coffers have to be emptied for dignified return and rehabilitation of this illustrious community back in the Valley, still it would be a lesser price for their contribution towards modern Indian State.

From 1989-90 till date the exiled Kashmiri Pandit groups across the globe are relentlessly striving as a mission for reversal of exile and restoration of their roots There is no one at the political level, not even the PM and the home minister or at bureaucratic level, prepared to stick their neck out and assure and commit any actionable time bound plan to restore the homeland ,dignity and honour to Kashmiri Pandits.

After the inoperability of Article 370 and bifurcation of JK State into two Union Territories,hopes and expectations that the Current government would pay serious attention to the plight and future of Pandits were sadly belied. The government has not ever consulted the representatives of the exiled natives nor there is any governmental return module/plan in public domain.

The exiled Pandits have been waiting for 32years, hoping that the day of their return with honour, dignity and security to their homeland will come. It has not so far, despite claims of the considerable improvement in the ground situation.

In the meanwhile, the plight of Pandits has been slowly forgotten. Everybody sheds crocodile tears over their suffering, but there is nothing by way of action.

Rootlessness syndrome and despondency is fast gripping.The future of Pandits, as an important stakeholder and component of the Kashmir is less and less talked about.However the hope is never lost.History is replete Pandit’s have always returned back to homeland after every hounding out exodus by tyrant rulers.

There are attempts by various social groups and civil society activists to ensure that the promises made by the nation, to restore the honour and dignity of Pandits, are not forgotten. These groupings are interacting vigorously with leaders of the government,theOpposition political parties and the international public opinion leaders to ensure that this dimension of the Kashmir scenario is not forgotten. The socio-religious leadership of majority community and the groupings those who have for some reason have chosen not to be part of the mainstream are helpful factors towards the return of natives back home.

The return of Pandits to their homeland is achievable ,there is a national consensus and the people of Kashmir are in unison craving /asking for return of natives. The Government of India and the LG administration have to plan out a common and comprehensive return module and enforce the same in time-bound framework. New Delhi has a constitutional and political responsibility to and demonstrate a strong political will. It has to create infrastructures, housing colonies, etc, provide adequate jobs to the educated youth and secure all the religious places, cultural centres and endowments. The greater obligation on the Central and LG governments is to create a conducive economic and socio-political environment for reversing their exile and facilitate their safe and dignified return to their homeland. — their roots and homeland.

If not now then when is what KPs are asking on their exile entering today the 32nd.year.

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Policy & Politics

SPICES BOARD OF CENTRE CONDUCTS MEETING WITH SCIENTIST COMMUNITY AND CHILLI CROP EXPERTS

Meeting done to chalk out strategies to tackle Thrips outbreak in chilli crop in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Chairman, Chilli Task Force Committee, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, directs agricultural scientists to chalk out strategies to tackle the pest outbreak in chilli crops.

Tarun Nangia

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Severe Thrips attack in Chilli crops in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh has seriously affected the crop yield and the chilli farmers are highly distressed and worried about the crop loss, which will add on to their financial burden.

In order to chalk out ways to address the issue caused by the invasive Thrips species the Chairman, Chilli Task Force Committee, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, MP, conducted a meeting with Scientist community and Chilli crop experts today. Organised by the Central Government’s Spices Board, the meeting was attended by eminent scientists from the ICAR- Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), Dr YSR Agriculture University, ICAR- National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources (NBAIR), Indian Cardamom Research Institute (ICRI), Spices Board; officials from the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage (DPPQS), New Delhi, Horticulture Department from States of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and representatives from Chilli Seed Suppliers.

This video conference, chaired by GVL Narasimha Rao, was a follow up action to last month’s field visit to the pest-infested chilli farms led by him along with teams of scientists from institution and horticulture department to analyse the ground reality. Dr. A.B. Rema Shree, Director, Spices Board welcomed Shri Rao and experts and explained the gravity of the situation during the field visit conducted by a team of experts from IIHR, NBAIR, Spices Board, State agri / horti dept and other stakeholders in Chilli area. The field visits led by Shri Rao enabled the scientist communities to develop strategies / action plan to equip the farmers to prevent the further spread of pest attack and take precautionary measures to protect their crop.

During today’s meeting the detailed deliberation were made by the Crop experts and Scientists. Shri Rao requested the need for coherent and confluent approach to the deal the with attack from invasive pest Thrips parvispinus, in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karanataka other states, wherever this risk is prevailing. He emphasized to focus on developing advisories for farmers on Good Agriculture Practices, and recommend low-cost / affordable materials like blue sticky trap, cultivation of short duration chilli varieties, so that farmers can manage and survive the pest attack till a firm strategy against the pest is jointly prepared by the line departments and institutions. In meantime, Shri GVL Narasimha Rao, requested ICAR-IIHR to take the lead and analyse and screen for chilli varieties that are resistant to thrips attack from the affected plots in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; he directed the IIHR entomologists to screen existing molecules which can be used against thrips and identify natural enemies of thrips with help of other institutes like ICAR-NBAIR.

The major reasons cited for serious infestation by invasive thrips were identified as the indiscriminate usage of pesticides, excessive application of Nitrogenous fertilizers, October-November rains, followed by hot and humid conditions which mediated triggering of thrips, replacement of common chilli thrips Scirtothrips dorsalis by invasive species – Thrips parvispinus, etc.

During the deliberations, the representative of State Agricultural Dept, Andhra Pradesh mentioned that the presence of thrips are now found in mango plantation also, which might affect the yield. It was also pointed out that the fields where the infested chilli crops were removed and Bengal Gram was grown, the latter crop also got infested with the thrips. The Deputy Director, State Horticultural Department, Karnataka mentioned that in major chilli growing belt in the state – Bellary and Raichur, the fruit rot is main issue and farmers have not been much affected by thrips attack, though it is equally damaging the chilli crop. The Director, Spices Board mentioned that due to fruit rot, the Board has received grievances from the Chilli manufactures that during value addition process, the final chilli product is losing its colour, which might affect the export of chilli from the country.

Citing all the observations made during the meeting, Rao asked IIHR and Spices Board to conduct joint training programmes to impart knowledge on Good Agricultural Practices by emphasizing on judicious usage of pesticides, use of Integrated Pest Management techniques, adoption of good hygienic practices in field to prevent as well as withstand the pest as well as disease attack. He also asked the two institutes to draw chilli samples from the market yards and test its quality to analyse and record how the pest and disease attack is affecting the quality of chilli as well as for recording the seriousness of pesticide residue in the final produce due to indiscriminate usage of pesticides from farmers to thrive the thrips attack. He asked the Joint Director (PP), DPPQS, to present the consolidated report by adding points suggested by the scientist community during the meeting, to the Secretary, Agriculture Ministry along with the report prepared by the DPPQS.

The meeting ended with request by GVL Narasimha Rao force to the scientists community to jointly work and share the details such as the publication of thrips attack worldwide in the various crops, the extent to which it caused damage, how the invasive thrip -’Thrips parvispinus’ was introduced in India, consultations with international pest management institutes to identify how various countries are tackling the issue, etc and prepare a consolidated report so that he can discuss it with Ministry of Agricultural and Farmers Welfare before the parliament session begins.

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Policy & Politics

INDIA TO ADD 50 FRESH UNICORNS IN 2022: STUDY

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In India more than 50 startups have the potential of entering the unicorn club in 2022 as showcased in a new study. This will take the total tally of India to well over 100 startup unicorns(those well valued over $1 billion each). The year 2022 has shaped up nicely to become a matrix and a petri-dish of startups and with each success the chances of others joining them becomes well over-precedent. The growth of startups can be attributed to various national economic policies and the ease of doing business norms. The shopping capabilities and buying parameters of the people also has to do a lot with this, the report by a consultancy firm suggested.

Amit Nawka, partner(deals and startup leader) in PwC India, which conducted the study said that, “ We can say that the base of these companies in growth stage and late-stage deals have improved have improved significantly in the calendar year 2021, depicting a stronger base of companies having the potential to reach the unicorn status. With market sentiments favourably inclined towards startups, and the large base of scaled startup companies at the end of CY21, we expect the startup’ unicorn tally to go well beyond 100 by the end of 2022.” Over $10 billion was invested in the Indian startup ecosystem in the October-December quarter alone, according to the report.

81 is the total number of startups in India as of now with a total valuation of 4274 billion. Of these 44 unicorns with a total valuation of $89 billion were born last year, shows data from Invest India, the national investment promotion agency. The PwC report shows that in the fourth quarter, startup funding crossed the $10 billion mark.

If we talk about categorisation, Fintech startups raised nearly four times more funds last year as compared to the previous year. Edtech followed closely with a growth of 86% compared to $2.2 billion raised in 2020. Software as a service came in a close third. Growth and late-stage deals comprised around 85% of the total funding. Among the most persistent and active investors were Sequoia Capital, Accel and Tiger Global. A December 2021 report by the Hurun Research Institute had mentioned that India is the third largest home for unicorns globally but trails the US and China by a wide margin.

Bengaluru and the Nation Capital Region witnessed nearly three-fourth of the total funding by venture capital and private equity funds, the report said. In its list of 50 potential unicorns it placed companies like Khatabook, Whatfix, Practo, Ninjacart, Inshorts, Pepperfry as among the candidates because of their history of having raised over USD 100 million to date.

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Policy & Politics

Effect of high rated fuel on country’s economy

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High fuel taxes combined with a recovery in international crude oil rates has affected millions of people, slowing down the recovery of the country. The price of petrol and diesel hits a new record everyday. In Mumbai, petrol can be bought at Rs 109.98 per litre and diesel costs Rs 94.14 for one litre as on 18th January.

Experts have warned that rising fuel rates could severely derail India’s economy, which is already under pressure due to the impact of the second Covid-19 wave. High petrol and diesel prices have not only impacted vehicle owners, but also people who do not own a car. Rising fuel prices have resulted in a sharp rise in retail inflation, making a host of essential commodities and services costlier for citizens.

Elevated tax levels are playing a major role in the current record high prices in India. The central government had last year increased levies on petrol by Rs 14 per litre and on diesel by Rs 16 per litre to shore up revenues as the pandemic forced a sharp slowdown in the economic activity. Central and state taxes currently account for about 53.5 per cent of the pump price of petrol and about 47.6 per cent of the pump price of diesel in Mumbai

The rising crude oil prices, and the higher taxation impact, have also contributed to the prices of petrol and diesel regularly setting new record highs across the country in 2021. Petrol in nation’s capital is priced at Rs 95.41 per litre while diesel in the national capital is retailing at Rs 86.67 per litre. India has seen a faster recovery in the consumption of petrol than of diesel after pandemic-related restrictions with petrol consumption up 9 per cent in September compared to the year ago period but diesel consumption remaining 6.5 per cent below 2020 levels. Diesel accounts for about 38 per cent of petroleum product consumption in India and is a key fuel used in industry and agriculture.

India has long pushed for Middle eastern countries to remove the Asian premium that Asian countries have to pay for crude oil as key oil producers set higher prices for India than for the US and European countries. Despite a 40 cent per barrel cut in the official selling price of light crude to Asia, Saudi Arabia is still charging a $1.30 premium on the benchmark price for light crude sold to India compared to a $2.4 discount on the benchmark price for European customers.

Experts have noted that countries like India do not have much bargaining power in the current market scenario where supply is lower than demand and that India’s bargaining power may be reduced further if we try to further diversify crude oil procurement. Also, the level of output and pricing benchmarks are decided by cartels such as OPEC.

So, Experts believe that the government should cut excise duty to some extent as it will provide some relief to customers and lead to higher sales and revenues which will accelerate the economy. But economic recovery will become tricky if the government continues to ignore rising fuel prices. If the commodity becomes too expensive, it would see a sharp decline in revenue.

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Policy & Politics

India-born top the list of founders among US unicorns: Study

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It is not only in India but in the US too that Indian founders are creating unicorns.

A study by Professor of Finance at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Ilya A. Strebulaev researched that 90 out of 1,078 founders and entrepreneurs across 500 US unicorns were born in India which signalled a significant presence of Indian-Americans in the country’s startup and tech economy. He tweeted that, “Over four out of ten unicorn founders are first gen immigrants”. Indian born founders were followed by the ones from Israel and Canada with 52 and 42 founders respectively.

Some of the Indian origin founders of prominent unicorns include: Rohan Seth of Clubhouse, Baiju Bhatt of Robinhood, Dheeraj Pandey, Mohit Aron, Ajeet Singh of Nutanix, Apoorv Mehta of Instacart, Aayush Phumbhra of Chegg, among many others.

The research undertaken by Strebulaev is ripe at the time when India based technology want to return back home. Indian immigrants in the US are increasingly leaving their American dream behind because of visa issues and also because of the allure of a thriving startup culture in the home country. America has had a history of extremely successful Indian-origin entrepreneurs including Kanwal Rekhi, Pramod Haque, Sanjay Malhotra among others. India born executives are not only fueling the startups of the US but they are the executives of the most powerful tech giants.

U.S based Kaufman Foundation 33.2% of the co-founders of technology and engineering founded by immigrants in the US were Indians. Kaufman Foundation found out that Indian immigrant contribution in tech and startup industry was the only one that increased, all other immigrant contributions saw a decline. Another finding showed that 33 of the top 50 AI companies have at least one first generation immigrant founder. And 53 of the 125 founders are first generation immigrants. India and Israel were the largest senders of immigrant AI founders followed by the UK, China and Portugal.

India has a vibrant and an ever growing startup ecosystem. A recent report by venture capital fund Orios Venture Partners said Indian startups raised $42 Billion in 2021 up from $11.5 Billion in the previous year. The newly minted unicorns include ShareChat, Cred, Meesho, Moglix, MPL, Grofers(now blinkit), upGrad, Mamaearth, Acko, Spinny and others. India with 90 unicorns is the third largest unicorn hub behind the US(487) and China(301) and ahead of the UK(39). According to the report Flipkart was the most valuable unicorn($37.6 Billion).

India has seen four decacorns(companies with a valuation of USD 10 billion and above) so far- Flipkart, Paytm, BYJU’s and Oyo Rooms. While Bengaluru was the ‘Unicorn Hub’ with 18 unicorns emerging from the city in 2021 and 35 in all. It also happens to be the seventh largest unicorn city in the world.

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