The RISE World Summit: Charting a New Course for Impactful Change

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Idobro is a mission-driven enterprise that leverages the power of Citizenship, Entrepreneurship and Partnership to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Founded in 2009, its Citizenship programme works with individuals and students to influence change while their Entrepreneurship Vertical supports Women, Social and Green Enterprises (WSGE) to start, sustain and scale. Idobro also facilitates partnerships for socio-environomic impact by bringing together the broad stakeholder groups necessary for sustainable development viz. government, industry, academia and civil society. Accordingly, it has designed development models for all three verticals to foster dialogue and engagement while mapping capabilities and challenges for strategic collaboration. Idobro has executed projects in seven countries and 21 States of India impacting over 7,50,000 individuals, 1,20,000 students, 1000+ entrepreneurs, and 500+ institutions and organisations. CSR Mandate spoke with Karon Shaiva, Chief Impact Officer and MD of Idobro and Convenor – RISE World Summit to learn more about the various transformational and innovative approaches that are undertaken in cementing partnerships and collaborations.

So Karon, first a really basic question, are events important at all for the social sector, and if so, how?
Thanks, Atula. It is not a basic question but in fact, quite an important one! Events can play a very critical role in the development framework and should be a part of every programme’s agenda. Events are not so much about an activity as much as it is for the reason it is conducted. As per our model, we believe that even before you can execute a project, you need to do two essential steps for the success and scale of the project – create awareness and engage with stakeholders. The first is about communication and advocacy, but the second is for interaction and capacity building to prepare the ground for take-off and growth.

I have also heard you say that events are a big waste of money…
That’s true, too! But that does not mean, I said all events are a waste of money. Events are undertaken for a variety of good reasons – to showcase accomplishments, exchange platforms, share knowledge and learn from others’ experiences, workshops and training, exposure visits, tours, and other activities. But if events are not conducted with a clear sense of objective and outcome, then yes, it can be a colossal waste of scarce resources.

Unconferences are a big trend these days. Every event claims to be one. How different are they from the other conferences?
Unconferences are a great idea as they attempt different formats to increase the interaction between participants, and hence the engagement. Unfortunately, it is also a fad because most Unconferences continue with traditional formats and simply add one or two elements to claim distinction, which is, of course, better than nothing! The RISE World Summit has attempted to go beyond an Unconference by ensuring a basic non-negotiable – No Panels and No Presentations. Panels and presentations have a purpose, which is to share information, but partnerships are best formed through personal interactions, and knowledge is gained through deep conversations. This can only happen in a non-hierarchical, participatory manner. This is why we have a clear No Panel and No Presentation policy. Incidentally, when I tell people this, the instant reaction is, “Then what do you do?”, which is quite telling!

Beyond an Unconference, RISE is truly unique with no panels or presentations. We have 20 different formats and all activities focus on breakthrough interactions for all.

How then is RISE different from other conferences or even an Unconference?
The RISE Summit has been designed to deepen and widen the development agenda by bringing together the 4 Key Stakeholder Groups – Government, Corporate, NGOs and Academia to collaborate. Our focus is the people – the actors who make things happen, who are the solution creators, the practitioners, the decision-makers, the policy-makers, the learners, the teachers, the facilitators, you, me and all stakeholders who can play a role and contribute to making our world better and our planet greener. We need to broad-base participation, and even more important, foster Collaborations through cross-sectoral dialogue and capacity building. The RISE Summit has multiple innovations in design, content, and execution based on these very objectives.

As I mentioned, beyond an Unconference, RISE is truly unique with no panels or presentations. We have 20 different formats and all activities focus on breakthrough interactions for all. Subject Matter Experts facilitate Roundtables, Chat Tables, Workshops, Clinics, Film Festivals, Resource Room, Exhibition, Conclaves, Stories, Mixer, World Gallery, Social Tours, Mentoring Clinics  Speed Networking, Open Mic, Surveys, Social Contest and more.

The Roundtables are at the heart of the conference and are conducted in a distinctive pattern, such that we have been advised to patent it. This has been designed to ensure outcomes at the end of the deliberations – Research, White Papers, Knowledge Collectives, Projects, Tours and more. We now want to work on policy recommendations. Similarly, our workshops are actionable, applicable, having practical value for the participants. Our opening and closing plenary are also very meaningful. The Opening Plenary features the release of the RISE Values while the Closing Plenary is about the participants sharing their takeaways as well as any potential way forward.

Further, to bridge the gap between academicians and practitioners, we co-host the RISE Summit with an academic partner who is deeply involved in curating the content through their knowledge and experience. The Summit has been a travelling event with a different partner each year. 

We do not have sponsorships. That way, it is not a marketing expense for our Co-hosts. We have adopted a project-approach long before it was mandated by the Company’s Act. We work with our collaborators so that their involvement at RISE feeds into their long-term plans.

What is the RISE Summit focused on?
There is no vertical focus as such. Roundtable topics in the past have included  Skills and Livelihood, Gender Diversity, Education,  Malnutrition, Agriculture, Sports, WASH, Global Supply Chain, Tribal Welfare, Waste Management, and Financial Literacy, among others.

Our main objective is Cross-sectoral Dialogue For Collaboration, so, the more diverse the subjects, the better. This helps highlight new perspectives on the causality of problems, the intersection of issues and the convergence of solutions. This also provides a wide canvas to participants, not just to network, but to bridge silos and find a common denominator for learning and sharing. Having said that, Nutrition, Health, Agriculture, Education, WASH, and Skilling have been a recurring theme almost every year since we started seven years ago.

We are now moving away from an issue-based approach to an actor-facilitation focus. As I said in the beginning, it is finally the people who find solutions. Thus, citizenship is a special focus this year due to our activities and plans around the RISE Circle of Impact Program and it will be integral to our growth and identity in the coming years. Building ownership is an effective way of getting people involved in their neighbourhoods and use their circles of influence to bring about change. Entrepreneurs and other stakeholders can be their partners in creating sustainable and scalable solutions.

Events are quite costly affairs and I believe you do not have sponsors at RISE. How do you fund such as large events?
Yes, this is yet another innovation in our model. We do not have sponsorships. That way, it is not a marketing expense for our Co-hosts. We have adopted a project-approach long before it was mandated by the Company’s Act. We work with our collaborators so that their involvement at RISE feeds into their long-term plans. Hence, RISE is programme-funded, as the activities at RISE feed into their projects and help them achieve their mandates and goals. We also provide multiple other opportunities for partners to gain visibility for their work and interests.

What do you mean by a platform? What kind of post-event collaboration do you foresee?
As I mentioned, the RISE World Summit is not an event but instead an eco-system within which to showcase, build or initiate partnerships depending on the mandate, stage and maturity of a programme by a Co-host. It has an outcomes approach and we use the outcomes from the discussions and connections made at RISE to continue to work in a project-mode to achieve the objectives set. We aspire to build on our results year on year leading to outcomes and potential alliances. Idobro provides functional support through Communication and Outreach campaigns, Stakeholder Engagement events and Capacity Building activities, and finally, Evaluation and Strategies for end-to-end project implementation depending on what the end goals of the project/phase are. Last, but not the least, depending on the kind of partnerships, our Co-hosts become part of the Idobro-RISE eco-system, and we are happy to refer any opportunities that come our way that would be relevant to them. Most of our partnerships at RISE have been so for multiple years.

Our efforts to catalyse the space are largely due to our Partners, Experts, and Core Committee, and of course, the student volunteers and Idobro team. Everyone contributes to co-creating the event as per their strengths. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the critical role they play and I truly thank them for making the RISE Summit possible.

RISE is programme-funded, as the activities at RISE feed into their projects and help them achieve their mandates and goals. We also provide multiple other opportunities for partners to gain visibility for their work and interests.

How did the RISE Summit become the RISE World Summit?
The RISE Summit used to have a global outlook with a single-country focus each year. When we started to have a repetition third year in a row, we decided to have multiple partners; and so was born the RISE World Summit! We look forward to work with even more countries as there are some very valuable inter-country alliances, organisations, and projects that most people are unaware of. These partnerships also give us a glimpse into the concerns and practices in other countries, be they social, environmental or business.

What are the plans for the RISE World Summit this year?
The RISE World Summit this year has been divided into three parts – The FEST, the Forum, and the Tours. Social tours will be organised to little known places in Mumbai with innovations that we will be stunned by, even today. The Forum will consist of Roundtables and Workshops. Roundtable topics this year will include:

  • Encouraging Corporate Citizenship, Policies, and Processes for Sustainability.
  • Strengthening the research and data utilisation mechanisms for effective public projects along with individual citizen participation.
  • Policy Recommendations for Women, Social and Green Enterprises (WSGE) as a special subset of MSME. WSG Entrepreneurs, as Beneficiaries and Enablers of development (last mile linkage)
  • Create opportunities and continuous support for women from The Missing Middle – Home/Mom/SolePreneurs communities for a better quality of life.
  • Sectoral Alliances (Sanitation, Skills, Malnutrition, Clean Cookstove, Water, Plastic Waste)
  • SD Goal 17 Resource (Finance, Technology, Capacity-building, Trade, Systemic issues)

Workshops focus on functional aspects such as Technology, Media & Communication, Finance, Design-thinking, Monitoring, and Evaluation, etc.

The Fest is an open event that consists of the rest of the formats. New ones this year includes the Human Library, Speed Icebreakers, and Open Mic. 

How does one register for RISE?
Well, most conferences get you to register first and then decide what you want to attend. RISE is again customisable, where participants need to register only for those activities they are interested in and not for the full conference. You cannot do a single registration, you necessarily have to choose and register accordingly. This means you know exactly why you are coming to RISE in advance. This way, we get relevant and truly interested people attending. This also provides them with flexibility as per their schedule as they do not have to block multiple days for an event when they would like to participate in only one or two activities.

As one person described the RISE Summit – it is a mosaic. The presence of every person adds to the diversity and opportunity for participants.

We also make sure that we map our outreach process based on research and understanding of who we feel would most contribute and/or benefit from a particular activity.

This sounds like a lot of work.
True. It is almost like managing 30 different events at one time, and my team does question the value of it, but I truly believe this is what makes RISE so meaningful to those that participate.

Any stories you would like to share?
Yes! Two short stories from the many we have. One was about the seating arrangement at RISE. We always sit in a roundtable format so that every participant can see the others easily. When the gatherings are large we do multiple circles. At one time, we went to more than 60 and we decided to do a cluster seating. However, before we could start the session, some of our regular attendees insisted that we change the seating as they did not feel that they were at RISE. They even suggested that everyone offer to help with changing it around really quick!

The second was a person who came and told us that he had never had such engaging conversations at a conference before, and the proof was that he had collected the least number of cards even after talking to so many. Reacting to our surprised looks, he explained that he exchanged contact details immediately to ensure he does not lose their information and also noted follow-up actions. He further revealed that the cards were a formality as normally, he would just give his cards to someone to put into a database and then forget all about them. 

What next for RISE?
The goals we set are not easy to achieve. We have made mistakes and failed attempts. As we continue with our experiments on this journey of exchange and change, I believe we have created a circle of impact – a rich eco-system built over the years of partners and participants, individuals and institutions, who share the RISE Values (Responsible, Inclusive, Sustainable and Eco-friendly). It is because we share these values (ethical) that we create shared-value (a win-win proposition) not just at the convening but through successful associations, post-Summit.

The RISE Principle proposes that the RISE values are in everyone, and when in sync with the eco-system, become drivers of positive change. We hope to take the RISE World Summit format to more cities and create more circles of impact.

We also hope you will join us at the RISE World Summit 2020 from January 16 to 21, across Mumbai and Pune to discover the RISE actors and drivers for action for a better world and a greener planet.

Information on past RISE Summits can be found on www.risesummit.in.