In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special segment NewsX India A-List, Atul Satija the Founder & CEO of The/Nudge Foundation spoke about the endeavors of his organization and how they aim to revolutionize Agri-tech and other pressing challenges that the country is facing.
Talking about his journey and how he found his true calling in the social sector, Satija said “I started as an Engineer-MBA harboring the corporate ladder dreams, mostly because India did well in the technology sector and better than the other sectors in the last 20 years. I followed the same journey. But I think somewhere growing up, I had this notion that I want to do social work at some point in my life. And I didn’t know when. So when I entered my 30s, I started volunteering with a nonprofit in Delhi and that’s how my journey in the social sector started.”
“I used to wait for the evenings and weekends to actually go and spend time in communities. That really told me that my heart is actually working on the grassroots, and bringing about social change, and not as much in the corporate rat race that I was in. I think eight years into it, I moved to Bangalore and did a startup, and five years back, I decided to make that switch. And that’s how The/Nudge was born. It’s been five years of a really impactful journey now,” continued Satija sharing with us his inspiring journey from corporate to the social sector. Satija started The/Nudge Foundation in 2015 as a non-profit poverty alleviation organization. During its inception five years ago, The/Nudge started working with underprivileged groups in skill development who migrated to cities from rural areas and the organization gave them skills and employability and put them in jobs.
The founder threw light on the kind of change that his organization is looking to create and how they are aiming to solve some of the most pressing challenges India faces today. “India has the second-largest number of extreme poverty in the world. The country has 175 million people below the poverty line so it’s a very large problem. The/Nudge was created to work on poverty alleviation. That’s the purpose with which we started but the way we do that is we are an action organization.”
“We want to be at the grassroots and keep our hands and feet ready. We want to learn from our work on the ground and also learn from others’ work on the ground. Whenever we find a solution that works, we want to figure out a way to scale it working with the governments and markets. We see us as a development action organization working on poverty alleviation, wanting to bring about systemic change,” continued Satija.
Poverty alleviation continues to be a very multifaceted and complex issue. Satija shared his insights and various angles with which The/Nudge approached it, “It is a very complex problem that has too many dimensions to it. One has to pick what you can do and leave the rest to the ecosystem. The way we at The/Nudge look at this is we focus on livelihoods as the main area which means that income in the hands of the poor is what we are trying to tackle. We know that there is work to be done in public health, in education in so many other areas, but we chose livelihoods as our own vertical focus. Livelihoods could be urban, which means scale development, putting people in jobs, making sure that they are staying in jobs, making money, having financial security, social mobility, and things like that. In rural areas, it’s largely Agri and dairy and some allied services around that. That’s our vertical focus.”
“Horizontally, we also look at the capacity of the country and the development sector to contribute meaningfully to poverty alleviation. What that really means is that we have the talent working on the big problems, do we have the capital required to solve these problems? How will technology contribute to this, and also is the policy infrastructure of the country? Technology, policy, capital, and talent are kind of the foundational pillars we see along with our vertical working livelihoods,” continued Satija.
Aiming to achieve their goals The /Nudge works across three different impact streams broadly which Satija elaborated as follows: “First is the Center for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship where we bring young people into skilling programs and then we put them into service sector jobs. Secondly, we have the Center for Rural Development and the third is the Center for Social Innovation, where we focus on mostly talent moving into the social sector and actually being able to contribute to India’s journey.”
Satija acknowledged the pressing challenge concerning both theoretically and practically to get talent and sustain that talent in the Indian Development sector, “We were not a wealthy country for a while, during pre-independence and post-independence. What is happening in the first generation wealth is that everybody comes out of colleges thinking about their own financial security, and supporting their immediate family and people around them. And that is the right thing to do. I think India is reaching a stage now, with the last 30 years of our growth during post liberalization in particular, where there is correct mental space to think about society at large. And that is allowing millennials in particular to think. It’s a great opportunity, I don’t think 20 or 30 years back people were able to think that way. They had to solve for their financial security and see this as a second career as I did.”
“I’m seeing a lot of energy amongst the youth to do it but the barriers are very real. Is there affordability of talent or can an NGO sector pay salaries that people need? Firstly, there is a huge gap and philanthropy is not able to support the salaries that markets can afford Two, how does the sector work? Does the talent see the NGO sector where they can go and work as they work normally in some other organization? People have a certain view of nonprofits which for the most part, are not real. I have been in the development sector now for five years, I have seen amazing variety and diversity within the nonprofit sector. There are nonprofits that drive activism, but there are several service delivery nonprofits, entrepreneurial problem-solving nonprofits, and think tanks. There are academia and research as well. There is room for everyone. And I think that it is probably the better time for people to jump into the sector,” continued Satija.
The/Nudge Forum recently launched a 2-crore grand CISCO Agri Challenge on 18 December aiming to spark farmer-centric innovation in partnership with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Govt. of India and CISCO India. This saw the three ways coming of the engineering talent, technology talent, and innovators together to come in and solve the problems of the farmers’ income.
On a concluding note, Satija shared with us how and where he sees the imagined five years from here and the priorities, “Over the last five years we are able to touch about 8-9 million lives across the country through our both indirect and direct work. In the next five years, we want The/Nudge to continue on this path of being a development action organization and be closer to seeing systems change happen in the country, especially in scale development areas. I’m seeing The/Nudge impacting about 15-20 million lives in the next five years. Cumulatively mostly through system change, evolving the scaling ecosystem to where it needs to be or rural livelihood, with farmers income being in the next stage of their growth.”