The origins of Digital Impact Square
For Nashik city in the Indian state of Maharashtra, 2015 was a significant year. With the district hosting a Kumbh Mela (periodic religious gatherings organized around rivers), the administration had been on its toes trying to anticipate and defuse crowd management issues. But despite an attendance of over 30 million people, the event ended without a single fatality.
How did the local municipal and law enforcement authorities pull off this feat? In a nutshell: by combining their exhaustive knowledge of the city with the power of social innovation. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) joined hands with the ‘Kumbhathon’ team to mentor and encourage bottom-up innovation through a series of tech camps in the run-up to the event. This effort led to 12 innovations being deployed during the month-long Kumbh Mela to address challenges associated with large crowds.
An innovation connection
To keep this ground-up ideation and execution process going, TCS set up Digital Impact Square (DISQ), an open innovation center based out of Nashik to create social impact through the use of inclusive design and digital technologies. Here, youngsters with entrepreneurial skills, work in teams to tackle challenges across seven themes: health and hygiene; education and skills; financial and personal security; energy, water, and the environment; food and agriculture; housing and transportation; and citizen empowerment and transparency.
The solutions emerging from DISQ are born of distinct innovation cycles, with the very first having begun in March 2016. Each cycle starts off with a multi-disciplinary team handpicked from various colleges across India. Since inception, over 510 bright young minds have been selected to innovate at DISQ, discovering and creating more than 50 solutions across the seven themes.
Startups addressing social issues
As of mid-2021, eleven startups have emerged from this environment, each with unique innovative solutions addressing different social issues. You can read more about some of them at the links given below:
The recipe for change
Apart from a physical infrastructure that fosters out-of-the-box thinking, DISQ also provides the innovators with extensive mentoring, coaching, access to ecosystems specific to their challenges, and a seed fund that helps them invest in creating their innovation and start-up. The young innovators are nurtured through their journey from being an ideator to an entrepreneur.
Dealing with challenges as diverse as providing accessibility solutions to the visually impaired, monitoring TB dosage through the use of technology, and reducing maternal mortality, the innovators take their solutions from the ideation stage to a viable prototype over a period of six months. In the next six to 12 months, a brand-new start-up and marketable minimum viable product (MVP) is born.