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Innovation
Published on: Feb. 13, 2020, 8:20 p.m.
IDFC FIRST Bank partners with Social Alpha to support social enterprises

By Business India Editorial

IDFC FIRST Bank’s corporate responsibility mission is focused on five areas: Education, Livelihoods, Women Empowerment, Health, and Financial Inclusion. It thus works with select impact partners on influencing their strategy, partnering on advocacy programmes and supporting on-ground implementation.

IDFC FIRST Bank partnered with Social Alpha to support social enterprises and create impact at scale. The enterprise is called Tactopus, an assistive tech start-up working towards inclusive education for visually impaired children. This partnership helps Tactopus develop five-years’ worth of exclusive curriculum, which can impact 3,900 schools by making them more inclusive.

As part of its incubation service, Social Alpha also provides seed capital to enterprises. The partnership with IDFC FIRST Bank uses a co-funding model, whereby Tactopus receives a grant by both parties to meet its deficit and deliver on pre-agreed milestones. Social Alpha (SA) is formally registered as Foundation for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (FISE) which is a Technology Business Incubator approved by the Department of Science and Technology.

SA promotes innovations and entrepreneurship with a mission to create large scale sustainable social, economic and environmental impact. It nurtures start-ups through their lab to market journey, helping them create commercially viable, accessible and affordable solutions. It also provides technology and business incubation support to start-ups.

Education content for visually impaired children often misses out on representational aspects of learning, limiting them from pursuing subjects like science and technology even if they have the aptitude and interest. Tactopus Learning Solution kits have content stitched with multilingual audio and promote inclusive schools and independent learning among students.

Through these kits, Tactopus aims to solve the problem of limited access to quality learning material, a limited number of trained educators and unfeasibility of independent study and practice and build an inclusive environment that facilitates co-learning and co-experiencing with sighted peers. Tactopus uses Augmented Reality Technology to create audio-tactile learning experiences. The smartphone camera detects which page is open, tracks a reader’s finger position provides contextual audio information – sound effects, labels and explanations.

The initial results have been encouraging. Here are experiences of two users belonging to different age groups. A 12-year-old girl Visalakshi was born blind and has mild cerebral palsy. She stays at home, listens to music all day, is paranoid about touching new things and does not explore her surroundings like children her age should. Her aunt heard about Tactopus and bought her books on animals and counting. When the Tactopus audio assistant played her favourite nursery rhymes with different animal tactiles, she opened up and began exploring pictures with her fingertips.

Take the case of a 26-year-old blind man with a degree in computer applications and management, who now works as a pan-India social media marketing manager. Until a year back, he never had access to a map of India. When Tactopus made an India political map and a state map for him in an audio-tactile format, he was able to better understand geographies and correlate that information with his work.

The audio-guidance is provided in vernacular languages and is designed to improve the learning experience. Multiple interactive play elements and screen-free learning make it fun and engaging for children. The product has been well received by the biggest institutes in the Visual Impairment Community in terms of its usability, experience and the problem it is solving. It has made its mark in Mumbai with XRCVC, Kamala Mehta Dadar School for the Blind, Victoria Memorial School for the Blind and Hellen Keller Institute. The product has received buy-ins from more than 15 large resource centres and schools across India, reaching over a thousand beneficiaries. It has also captured the attention of the international community, especially in Singapore, the UK, and the US.

The scale of work has been possible with support from IDFC First and Social Alpha. Beyond financially investing in this inclusive education product, IDFC First has played a role in defining product strategy, financial planning, sales and building the overall organisational approach.


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