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Wadhwani Foundation commits Rs 200 crore for SMEs

NEW DELHI: Romesh Wadhwani, founding chairman and CEO of $3.5 billion Symphony Technology Group and founder and chairman, Wadhwani Foundation talks to TOI about the challenges currently being faced by SMEs and the foundation’s plans to assist them. Excerpts:

Please share more details about the Wadhwani Sahayata Initiative, including the core focus areas, total corpus and details on how the funds will be deployed?

The Wadhwani Sahayata Initiative by the Wadhwani Foundation is being launched to help the distressed SMEs severely affected by the pandemic-led economic crisis and to help public health workers improve their COVID-19 related knowledge and skills. It consists of three programs: the Sahayata Business Stability program, the Sahayata COVID-19 Skilling program, and the Sahayata Public Health Innovation program.

The total investment is Rs 200 crore. In the Sahayata Small Business Stability program, the fund deployment will focus on building, managing and operating a large team of business consultants, including new dedicated team members, an academy to train SME business consultants and SME’s, and an AI-powered self-service technology platform, ‘GENIE’ that will enable expansion of the initiative to a much larger number of SMEs, with a self-service model.

The Sahayata Covid-19 Skilling program will provide online, video-centric skilling for 500,000 to one million Asha, Anganwadi and home health workers on how to protect themselves and care for their patients who may be affected by Covid-19.

In addition, the Sahayata Public Health Innovation Program will provide innovation grants or investments, in the Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1 crore range, to startups and early-stage companies to enable them to scale up their technology, products or services to strengthen India’s public health infrastructure.

What is the fund allocation ratio between the different focus areas of the initiative? Is the corpus fixed or can be increased later basis the response/requirement?

Most of the investment of Rs 200 crore will be in the Sahayata Business Stability program. Since our biggest effort under the Sahayata Initiative will be directed to help thousands of SMEs stay afloat today and stabilize, I anticipate approximately 70% of the funding will be allocated to the Sahayata Business Stability program, and the balance divided between the Sahayata COVID-19 Skilling, and the Sahayata Public Health Innovation programs.

If we demonstrate successful outcomes in all three programs with this Rs 200 crore investment, I am open to expanding this commitment so that we can help even more SMEs and public health workers. Of course, we are also hopeful that other partners, both Government and non-Government, will also be interested in funding similar programs. WF does not take any funding from others but it does work with many other partners, each of whom can directly fund similar initiatives or co-fund initiatives and programs with WF.

What is the overall time span that you are looking at for achieving the core goals of this initiative?

The Sahayata Business Stability program, in particular, is large and complex. It requires engagement with thousands of SMEs, first to help with survival, then with stability, and finally with growth. Each such SME will need time to implement any recommendations from the consultants assigned to them. A lot of new content and a lot of new AI-powered technology has to be created to enable the scale-up of this program. So, there will be a ramp-up, starting in year one, and building to steady state in years 2 and 3.

How many SMEs can potentially benefit from this initiative? What process will you follow to choose / shortlist these SME’s?

The Sahayata Business Stability program will support up to 10,000 SMEs with business survival, stability and growth consulting to help save or create up to 100,000 jobs.

It has signed partnerships with SIDBI, IIFL Finance, Clix Capital, Power2SME, and Magma Fincorp, to jointly select the SMEs that will be part of this program. For this, it is also expanding its internal team dedicated to this program to 100 SME business consultants, augmented by an even greater number of 3rd party consultants seconded to the Sahayata program.

Specific to the SME sector- what are the biggest challenges that you foresee in the near-term?

The biggest challenge facing the SME sector is access to credit (which GoI is addressing with its credit initiatives) and access to quality business consulting services at no cost or low costs. All of WF’s services, content and technology will be provided pro-bono, at no cost. At a time when many SMEs are struggling to stay afloat and contemplating shutting down their businesses, providing them with specialized consulting on surviving, stabilizing and growing will be a critical differentiator. It will help save and create jobs, and it will help increase the success rate of SMs who receive credit from the GoI and state government programs.

Many SMEs face challenges related to acquiring and retaining customers, broken supply chains, and disrupted internal processes, including cash management and employee retention.

How will the Sahayata initiative help SMEs to sustain business operations and adapt to the new normal, in order for the sector to survive the current crisis and also be future ready?

The Sahayata Business Stability program will provide SMEs with transformational business consulting at a highly subsidized rate, equipping them with the expertise necessary to survive, stabilize, and grow in the face of these challenges. While an SME’s long-term success depends on many factors, the Sahayata program’s objective is to help SMEs navigate through this crisis towards survival and success and ultimately help save or create 100,000 jobs. All of WF’s services, content and technology will be provided pro-bono, at no cost.

Also, the foundation has signed partnerships with leading, reputed and top ranked global and local management consulting firms, and individual subject matter experts and mentors, to provide 100-150 SME consultants to this Sahayata initiative. This team of consultants, including WF team members and seconded consultants, will use the foundation’s growing digital video library of business transformation and best practices content as well as its GENIE advanced technology platform for SME engagement. It is also establishing an academy to train SME business consultants in Sahayata-specific best practices, content, and technology. In the mid-term, to serve a much larger number of SMEs, the foundation is additionally developing an AI-powered self-service technology platform, ‘GENIE’ that SMEs will use, thus diminishing the need for consultants. It hopes to launch this next generation self-service SME transformation platform in mid-2021.

The government of India recently rolled out a substantial relief package for the MSME sector. Do you think that the Government has done a good job on this, or could they have done anything better?

The stimulus package recently announced by the government of India is commendable with an extensive, vital credit program to resurrect the MSME sector. However, in these difficult times, the SMEs will need expert guidance in how to survive, and then stabilize and then grow when the situation improves. In addition to credit, SMEs need to understand the best strategies and operational best practices to address challenges.

Healthcare is another sector that is facing a major crisis in terms of skilled manpower, infrastructure and innovations. How will the Sahayata initiative help this sector?

Yes. We all are witnessing how the COVID-19 pandemic has severely stretched the healthcare infrastructure globally. In addition to physicians and nurses, India’s public health infrastructure includes almost three million Asha and Anganwadi workers, home health workers, and nurse’s aides, as well as police and other volunteers. However, most of them have limited access to needed knowledge to protect themselves and diagnose and care for COVID-19 patients. The information available on the World Health Organization and other government websites is often difficult to find, understand, or use.

The Sahayata COVID-19 Skilling program will provide the essential information that these public health workers need in interactive video format through a variety of digital channels. Basic information on COVID-19 will be available on a dedicated YouTube channel. Additional information, including interactive Q&A and knowledge testing, will be provided to public health workers via WhatsApp. Even more detailed skilling content and certification will be available on the foundation’s digital platform/portal as well as other partners and government portals.

Wadhwani Sahayata COVID-19 Skilling program aims to skill 500K to 1 million Asha, Anganwadi, nurses’ aides and home-health workers in COVID-19 patient care, using digital platforms in the next 2-4 years.

In addition, the Sahayata Public Health Innovation Program aims to encourage innovation in public health, especially using today’s new digital technologies, including telemedicine, real-time diagnostics and testing, and patient monitoring and care. Much of this necessary innovation needs to come from startups and early-stage companies that struggle to find sufficient venture capital to achieve their mission. The Sahayata Public Health Innovation program will provide innovation grants or investments to up to 50 such startups and early-stage companies to help accelerate innovation in public health technology in India. Each award will be in the Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1 crore range.

Source: The Times of India


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