For six years, Upaya Social Ventures has helped 12 companies create over 4,100 new jobs for people living in impoverished areas in India. Upaya CEO Kate Cochran (’97) joined Impact@Anderson’s High Impact Tea series to share her experience and future goals for the nonprofit.
Cochran started out in management consulting and realized her passion for international development later in her career at an event for Unitus Labs. For several years, she served as VP of finance and operations, and later as VP of external relations for the organization, which makes seed-stage equity investments in social enterprises to benefit people living at the base of the economic pyramid. She went on to become COO and board member at Vittana Foundation, with whom a UCLA Anderson Applied Management Research field study team collaborated in 2014 on a microfinance-driven student loan project. Eventually, Cochran's long tenure in the nonprofit sector would lead her to Upaya.
An advocate of advancing entrepreneurship, and passionate about international development, Cochran has taken time to fine-tune strategies that allow Upaya to invest in viable companies capable of employing people in impoverished areas. When asked about Upaya’s impact in Indian communities, Cochran simply stated, “We create jobs for the poorest of the poor.”
But this kind of job creation does not come easy. Cochran’s focus as CEO for the last year has involved a significant shift in strategy, during which the Indian team was brought to Seattle, better systems were developed, and operational work advanced. This process also involved becoming more transparent about individual and team goals, creating a cloud-based file-sharing system and cascading down responsibilities for everyone at Upaya.
Another critical aspect for Cochran is clarity of job metrics, crucial to a pro-social business. Upaya’s number one benchmark is jobs. The organization measures not only the quantity of jobs it helps create, but also their quality. According to the Upaya team, a “good” job is one that lasts at least six months, is dignified and increases an individual’s income above the poverty level within a year. These jobs allow for growth and upward mobility in the company: someone who starts out in an entry-level position may be able to advance to management over time.
Over the years, Upaya has begun to focus on a certain type of job segment to provide financial resources. They focus on segments that are known job producers, especially agribusiness and rural manufacturing, two major areas that continue to promise growth in India. This not only allows startup businesses to grow, but also helps Upaya to grow as a nonprofit organization.
As for expanding outside of India, Cochran says that it will take up to another three years to finalize the model they are currently working with. The final goal of Upaya is to expand to more countries where it can implement the business model to help others living in poverty. When the time comes, Cochran said, “We will look for the right combination of poor population and entrepreneurial spirit.”