When the pandemic started hitting businesses and livelihoods in India last year, a lot of stakeholders and organisations stepped up to help the country fight myriad problems. In one such effort ACT- Action Covid Team was formed. ACT Grants is an organization founded by 34 founders & corporate leaders and 44 mainstream funds including Accel, Kalaari Capital, Ankul Capital, LetsVenture, and Lightspeed, with the aim to leverage innovative thinking and collaborative action of the business community in India to tackle challenges posed by Covid-19.
ACT was started with a Rs 100-crore initiative to support small businesses who are working on solving issues caused by the pandemic. One of ACT Grantees- Haqdarshak helped equip people under Below Poverty Line (BPL) with facilities that would help them financially to sustain themselves during the pandemic such as availing PAN Cards digitally. Seven states and over 50,000 people reached out for help through Haqdarshak helpline and $170 million worth of benefits were distributed, as per ACT Impact Report 2020.
Companies such as StepOne, which created a national Covid telemedicine platform, reportedly received Rs 25 lakh and MyLab, which manufactures RT-PCR testing kits got Rs 1 crore. ACT Grants enabled 54 Indian companies to scale during the crisis. Some of them are- ImpactGuru, Healthians, Swasth, Max Ventilators, Qure.ai, among others.
“We measured the impact of our grants and shared the results with the government, who then scaled many of our solutions. ACT’s COVID response impact was proof of what small entrepreneurs and the private sector could do if given a chance to partner with the government. It was most heartening to see so many volunteers come forward and work tirelessly alongside their day jobs on ACT initiatives,” Sandeep Singhal, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Nexus Venture Partners & Investment Committee Member, ACT, told ET Digital.
As the coronavirus turns a year older and numbers seem to repeat history, ACT wants to use its pandemic experience and entrepreneurial energy to work on larger societal problems in areas in education, healthcare, environment and women at the workplace. It plans to raise Rs 500 crore philanthropic fund for this initiative.
For healthcare Singhal said that the organisation will launch ACT Healthcare Fund to raise Rs 50 crore corpus and will fund innovative medical devices and digital platforms that significantly improve key health indicators across select non-communicable diseases and communicable diseases. This is in line with the aim to help India get closer to SDG targets.
Singhal stressed on the fact that the pandemic increased use of digital healthcare platforms last year due to which the patient behaviour has changed and this will result in greater investment in the healthcare sector in the future.
“We are also seeing significant push from the government with the National Health Authority and the National Digital Health Mission taking the lead in creating common standards and digital rails to improve healthcare access and outcomes. Electronic medical records, nationwide telemedicine linked to primary healthcare delivery, and digital support for the Asha workers in the field can increase transparency and be transformative,” he said.
ACT aims to raise Rs 100 crore towards education to fulfil the goals of investing in edtech firms, which witnessed a skyrocketing surge in its services last year which saw empty classrooms filled by online classes. The aim of this fund is also to invest in platforms which help in improving access to and uptake of quality learning for the bottom three economic quartiles of India’s population.
“Towards the environment, our goal is to raise a Rs 100 crore fund and will support organisations working towards market adoption and mainstreaming of market-tested innovations, with a measurable environmental benefit and an ability to be a force multiplier in the four areas of air, water, waste and land,” Singhal said.
ACT’s focus on gender parity comes with the objective to make the ecosystem (of entrepreneurs and investors) more inclusive, and increase the participation of women in the workforce, and in decision-making roles.
The organization believes that today, the need for innovation to help push social changes is rising and has become more significant than ever as the coronavirus has set many parts of the world, including our country, back by years. These include contributions and services by small businesses as well which do not have access to capital or talent that their for-profit counterparts may have.
“We want to help those entrepreneurs with access to capital, talent, and timely mentorship to help them develop viable business models that can create significant impact at scale,” he said.