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 disconnect between 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 Innovation and Science 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 cohorts of scholars, the venture draws upon the collaborative energies of a range players in India, Sri Lanka and the UK – organizers and those who teach.  It has been my privilege to teach and/or select the scholars in nine of the ten years the program has run.

To catalyse social innovation initiatives, CSVI extends mentoring to help grow ventures with manifest social impact and incubates innovative ideas that can address critical social needs. This is done through the Venture Center in Pune. In addition, CSVI has a solar home for middle and lower-income households in Gujarat called Powerhouse (see Furthermore, we are beginning work through CSVSR to support a coding school and series of hackathons associated with Yarl IT hub in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

With the overarching ambition of promoting substantive social development in India and Sri Lanka, CSVI and CSVSR aim to develop a wide range of sectors to benefit marginalized communities in tangible ways.

CRISP, originally supported by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Rolls-Royce, 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, University of Oxford, the CRISP program each year draws a group of exceptional professionals. The eclectic group usually has an 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 sensitised inclinations of the CRISP scholars. Through CSVI and CSVSR, the CRISP scholars seek to marshal resources and galvanise actions to transform the social landscape. Realising that the highway of economic growth and social advance cannot skirt the imperatives of ensuring basic social amenities and pragmatic, sustainable solutions at scale, CSVI is currently gearing up to support other projects.

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 organisational 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.

John Hoffmire and Pankaj Upadhyay

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 at the Center. Pankaj holds an MBA from the Said Business School at the University of Oxford.  Pankaj wrote much of this piece.

Click here to go to the CRISP website