Pallavi Gupta

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2015
This description of Pallavi Gupta's work was prepared when Pallavi Gupta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015 .


Pallavi is unlocking the power that is embedded in the potential collaboration of the government, private companies and social entrepreneurs, who have so far worked in isolation. Pallavi is facilitating this collaboration through a platform that brings together these stakeholders to identify solutions for social problems and empower local innovations to scale.

Die neue Idee

Pallavi thinks the bottleneck to social development is the lack of collaboration between the government, private sector and social entrepreneurs, which hampers the scale and reach of social innovation in India. Pallavi Gupta has designed a unique, neutral platform that enables these diverse entities to leverage their collective strengths to solve large scale social problems. By building the capacity of these interest groups and aligning their objectives, Pallavi is creating a new system under which the approach to social development is shifting from silo-ed, independent efforts to integrated and inclusive partnerships between the government, social and private sectors. This platform triggers the three passive sectors to become involved and participatory in collaborative development initiatives.

In the long run, Pallavi is changing the mindsets of all the involved stakeholders through awareness and capacity building, so that they realise how the solution supported using their collective strengths lead to maximum impact, so that partnerships and collaborations among the three sectors, becomes the expected paradigm in social development going forward.

Pallavi is attempting to institutionalize this collaboration methodology between these stakeholders by working closely with the State Govt and, through her membership at the State Innovation Council of Uttar Pradesh.

Das Problem

In 2009-2010 the central government released Rs. 2.38 trillion (US $ 39 billion) to state governments under various schemes for developmental activities. However, currently over 40% of funds under government schemes go unutilized because local governments are unable to innovate solutions to the socio-economic problems in their states, and spend these funds for their implementation.

Simultaneously, under the Companies Act, 2013, private companies are mandated to spend 2 per cent of their net profits on Corporate Social Responsibility towards activities such as promotion of education, gender equity and women’s empowerment, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, eradication of extreme poverty. However, companies have been unable to spend Rs. 12,000 million (US $119 million) because of the lack of social innovations to invest towards. In addition, there is a dearth of efficient or aggregated channels to connect vetted social enterprises with companies looking to invest their CSR funds. This lack of information and transparency further creates walls between the sectors.

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, has pointed out that solutions to many of the world’s most difficult social problems don’t need to be invented, but that they need only to be found, funded, and scaled. There is one NGO in India for every 600 people, and yet development indicators are not progressing as projected. The 2 million social entrepreneurs in India are struggling to scale their innovative solutions due to lack of access to remote areas and funds to scale. Therefore, critical social problems are remaining unsolved, and the resources to solve them are getting wasted.

It is strategically the best time in India to bring together these three key stakeholders- government, private companies and social entrepreneurs, to support solutions to social problems, as together they possess all the necessary resources, and are supported through law and policies to achieve maximum social impact. She believes that all the three sectors have immense experience, knowledge and desire to create development, yet they are skeptical of each other and prefer to work in silos. Her work is to bring them together and eliminating the need for re-invention of solutions.

Die Strategie

Pallavi recognizes that the challenge of social development cannot uniquely lie with either the government or civil society and wants to bring about a mindset change in all of society, where cross-sectorial collaboration becomes the norm to create developmental impact.

Pallavi did her Masters dissertation in 2011, where she interviewed close to 100 people from the three sectors- social enterprise, government and private companies, on the role they play in social development and the challenges they face. Through that research she realized that the real bottleneck for social development is embedded in the lack of communication and collaboration between these three key players.

Seeing the need for an organization for further operations, she returned to India full time and started FifthEstate in 2013. Pallavi started working closely with District Magistrates (DM) in the State of Uttar Pradesh, asking them what were the most difficult development challenges they were facing in their districts. Usually faced with accusations of not meeting development goals by civil society, media and community alike, the District Magistrates were open to collaborate with Pallavi, because she was empathetically asking them what problems they were facing, and offering to find innovative solutions to them through the network of vetted social entrepreneurs she was simultaneously building.

In order to source innovative solutions to the pressing needs of the communities identified by District Magistrates, for example, issues in health and youth employability. Pallavi reaches out to a large number of social entrepreneurs through existing social enterprise networks like start-up incubators, angel funders like Ashoka Fellow, Villgro, Sankalp Forum, Central Square Foundation, CIPS (Center for Innovation in Public Sector) and support programs for social entrepreneurs, like Ashoka, IIM Innovation Labs, PACS and NSDC. She invites applications from social enterprises with proven solutions, like programs to provide employability skill training to young graduates, using biometric based technology solutions to reach out to patients at their door steps keeping tab at their medication. Pallavi’s team at FifthEstate screens the applications, does due diligence on them, and then provides their full profile for a pool of experts consisting both national and international development sector professional, academics, journalists, social activists and government representatives to vote and provide recommendations on each solution. The shortlisted social enterprises are then presented to a panel of government officials and corporate leaders, who pick the final group of the most compelling social enterprises.

Pallavi is also constituting various incentive structures for the stakeholders to encourage them to work in this collaborative model. She is creating a collaboration networking platform for government officials, business leaders and social entrepreneurs to share innovations, successes and challenges with each other in a safe space while encouraging each other to work together for greater good.

Struggling to include the corporates, Pallavi found the motivation called for guiding them on the most effective investment for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. Pallavi builds relationships with private companies to learn what social issue areas are business/mission aligned and what geographies they are interested in to invest their CSR funds. As companies are mandated to invest 2% of their net profits towards social development, companies are keen to find effective social enterprises to invest in, and are keen to work with Pallavi to access the pool of vetted and selected social enterprises she has built.

In November 2014, Pallavi launched a ceremonial gathering called Manch (“stage”), where she brings these three stakeholder groups together. Principal Secretaries (State Government) and District Magistrates (local governments) share the key developmental challenges in their constituencies and the selected social entrepreneurs share their models as potential solutions. The State government officers provide their comment on the overall applicability of the model in the state, local government officials are most well versed with the local context and propose adaptations that need to be made to the existing models of the social enterprises to be most suited to their respected geographical areas, and provide their support in scaling the solution. The corporate leaders also identify the solutions that fit their CSR agenda and propose to fund the scaling of the models in geographies of their interest.

The minutes of these meetings are recorded and is circulated by the Planning Department so that all stakeholders can be held accountable for the role they vouched to play in implementing the solution they supported, for example, District Magistrates invite social entrepreneurs to their area and provide them with permissions and infrastructure to implement their model, businesses commit to funding the scaling operation.

In order to ensure effective implementation, the FifthEstate team follows up with all the stakeholders to accelerate the implementation of the social enterprises in various districts. The FifthEstate team, along with the social entrepreneurs, does monitoring of the implementation and also provides any support the social enterprise might need in the process.

Based on the experience of the social enterprise implementation on the ground and their experience and feedback, FifthEstate also presents an evidence based report to the government officials, and work for policy change to be more relevant in impacting the people it originally targeted. For example, at Manch 2014 a solar energy powered micro-cooling storage unit for farmers to store their produce in before it goes to market was agreed upon. The policy to subsidize cooling storage units for farmers only subsidized large scale units, whereas the need was for smaller units for the 80% small holder farmers in the region. A corporation funded the scaling of this storage unit for farmers, and the data showed a clear rise in the income of the farmers. The DM used this evidence based report to push for policy changes to include small cooling units in the subsidies available to farmers.

Pallavi realized the need for continued education of all the stakeholders for sustained mind-shift change, and conducts various sessions and workshops where she talks about the importance of cross-sectorial collaborations to innovate the best solutions to social problems, showcases existing collaboration models available globally to build a case for their success, and offers various methods to collaborate with each other even outside of Manch and the work of FifthEstate. For example, FifthEstate partnered with Twitter and Google, whose corporate leaders came together to present their products to government officials to connect with their constituents better, how to use social media to stay relevant, follow news and source social innovations from across the country to solve the social problems in their regions. Pallavi is also building skills and capacity in the stakeholders to independently seek out collaborations with each other outside of FifthEstate’s involvement.

Although Fifth Estate is currently grant funded, starting 2015, Pallavi is going to take a small percentage of the funds corporates grant to social enterprises through Manch, to make her operations sustainable.

By the year 2020, Pallavi is also aiming to institutionalize the collaborative support for social innovations by introducing a module on cross-sectorial partnership for social enterprises in the training of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Public Commissioned Service (PCS) officers, who go on to be appointed as local government leaders. Pallavi has also been appointed a Member of the State Innovation Council, UP due to her impressive work with social innovations over the past 2 years and she is seeking to institutionalize collaborations between sectors as the norm paradigm for social development in the country.

Die Person

Pallavi grew up in a challenging socio-economic environment. She spent her early years living with her family in a chawl (shared low-income housing) where 20 families shared 2 bathrooms between them. Hailing from the village of Etawah, her father was the only one to leave the village to get to Lucknow to study, and get a job in the government electricity board. Her mother worked as a telephone operator to educate herself and her children. Pallavi imbibed a deep value for education as the only tool for social mobility seeing her parents work hard to provide her and her brother quality education.

Pallavi joined the Bharat Scouts and Guides and worked on many social development projects, which was her first point of inspiration to engage with social change. During her earlier education, she spent many summer breaks volunteering in the surrounding slums. The program she started that was closest to her heart was the adult literacy program in the slums, at a time when everyone was talking about primary education for children, but no one was convinced of the value of adult literacy. Pallavi won the Governor and the President’s awards for the initiatives and innovations she had displayed at Bharat Scouts and Guides.

Pallavi continued to volunteer throughout Engineering and later worked as an engineer with tech giants like McAfee, IBM-ISL and Autodesk and also has a patent. Her desire to use technology for development took her to London School of Economics where she did her Masters in Management Information Systems and specialized in Technology for Socio-economic development and Open Innovation Methodologies. Post which she started working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) London, on their International Development projects.

During her research at LSE and her work at PwC, Pallavi started realizing that there is no dearth of social innovations, but the supporting ecosystem to scale these innovations was missing in India. She fell back on her Masters dissertation, where she had researched why Social Enterprise models in India were not able to scale, arriving at much the same answer. In 2013, Pallavi quit her job at PwC and moved back to her hometown, Lucknow, to start FifthEstate to build an ecosystem of governments and private companies to support and scale social innovations.