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Acara Summer Institute 2012 – Nine Impressive Teams

Acare Institute 2012 – Students & Faculty (Pic: courtesy their Facebook page)

[Editor’s Note: Last Friday I attended the final presentations of nine teams that made it to Acara Summer Institute 2012. I was impressed by the quality of the ideas and the pitches. What was most striking was that nearly all teams came across as *really wanting* to execute on their plans — in other words, not just doing it for course credit. Each team had 7 minutes of presentation followed by 7 minutes of questions/feedback from 10-odd reviewers (including me). This is Part 1 of a two-part series (covering teams 1 through 4). I wrote about last year’s Summer Institute here and here.]


#1: Ujjwal

The Cornell-Somaiya team is addressing the gap in pre-natal care knowledge among pregnant women in Mumbai’s slums. The Ujjwal idea is to create a “club for pregnant women.” A monthly subscription service (cost Rs. 200/month) club that delivers education and nutrition kits in a fun social setting by involving mothers and relatives. The enterprise relies on two key partnerships — with the local health post workers and  slum’s influentials. The team is seeking $10,000 for a one-year pilot in the Pratikshanagar slum in Mumbai. Key pilot objectives are to test pricing and capacity/willingness of partners.

What I like about Ujjwal: by addressing maternal health, it has the potential to create a virtuous cycle of preventive healthy habits with long-term gains.

My advice to Ujjwal: extend the duration of club membership to at least 3-6 months beyond birth of the child. According to the recently released HUNGaMA report (specifically insights #3 and #6), mother’s education level determines children’s nutrition levels and malnutrition can start very early in life. Perhaps a SMS service may also be considered?

#2: Aahar

Aahar (meaning “Food for Life”) is proposed by a team from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The two pain points in Orissa’s Tamana village are:

  • Unemployment among the landless poor
  • Unavailability of locally grown vegetables & fruits
The Aahar idea is to address these pain points by leasing land, hiring the unemployed youth to grow vegetables, and fulfill captive demand. Price expected to be competitive due to zero transportation cost. Pilot started in April on one acre of leased and the first (brinjal) harvest expected in September.
What I like about Aahar: has the potential for positive impact in multiple areas – reduction in unemployment  & migration, self-sustenance in produce, increasing village GDP.
My advice to Aahar: A fellow reviewer talked about villages in Bengal’s 24 Parganas district where entire crops are planted *exclusively* for consumption by Bangladesh’s markets; exclusive and guaranteed to the point that the farmers get paid at ‘planting time’! (a dream “captive market”). Try to secure buy commitment from a subset of the village.


The team name is a catchy acronym for Artificially Constructed Wetlands for Urban Sewage. The problem space that inspired this team? Residents of 26 Delhi slums that are ‘sitting ducks’ – being situated right next to open water flowing drains. Meanwhile, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) spends 40,000 crores annually for creating green spaces. The ACWUS team’s idea is to be the proverbial single stone to kill two birds – acquire DDA-approved land near the slums and direct the sewage water through an elaborate filtration system which includes special long grasses to catch sediment.

Their primary business model is to weave ACWUS as an ecological field education program for Delhi’s universities (JNU, TERI, and IIT-D initially). They are working on a pilot at Delhi’s Chirag slum via a $6,500 grant from Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS). More details on site selection criteria on the ACWUS blog.

What I like about ACWUS: a big idea with a potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for slum communities and kickstart a virtuous cycle of environmental improvement.

My advice to ACWUS: partner with a seasoned Delhi NGO and coax the slum community into “shared ownership” of the plan.

#4: Nirmal

The Nirmal team’s (from XIM Bhubaneshwar) idea is to setup a distribution infrastructure for Low-cost iron-free drinking water in Orissa’s villages. Their market research flagged iron contamination as the top pollutant Bhubaneshwar slums. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, they’ve picked a Hyderabad-based company as their systems partner – a reverse osmosis product that delivers at a cost of 25p/liter. Delivery at the doorstep is a key part of their strategy. The distribution network involves a hub and spoke model – hub village (~ 300 households) with surrounding villages (100-200 households).

What I like about Nirmal: The number of Indians without access to clean drinking water is so large that we need many more ‘Nirmals’ – focusing on being a distribution partner for an established water technology is pragmatic.

My advice to Nirmal: If the target consumers are in Orissa’s villages, why not conduct the pilot there instead of Bhubaneshwar’s Salia Sahi slum? Alternatively, the 2.5 million slum dwellers in Bhubaneshwar might be the target?


Part 2 of this series will include coverage of the remaining 5 teams – Blue Food, HumEnergy, ChaloBest, Urban Biogas, and Laddisfly