As the Founder and CEO, Prerna envisions catering to India’s ‘development data’ needs to catalyse the process of policy change and work upon business opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid. Under her leadership, Outline India has worked across 23 states to date, about 2600+ villages and 3,000,000+ stakeholders.
She has spearheaded projects across sectors as diverse as health, education and sanitation in over 2600 villages across 23 states.
Prerna has previously worked at the Centre for Policy Research, the Economics Department at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Prerna holds an MA in Economics from Boston University.
In her capacity as Outline India’s Founder, she was included on Fortune India’s ‘Forty Under Forty’ list of innovators. She has been a TEDx speaker and a speaker at the Emerging Markets Summit at Booth School, University of Chicago. She is a 2016 Australia India Youth Dialogue Fellow.
Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently
In my previous research engagements, I received some wonderful opportunities to work on research, on the ground, engage in field trials, code and analyze outcomes. We worked very hard to build tools, in 10+ local languages, across 19 states; held vigorous training sessions – each running into four to five days, built field manuals and so on. The fieldwork, however, was outsourced, since the think tank had no in-house capacity and since this was the accepted norm of doing research.
At the end of about two years of groundwork and seven months into cleaning data, I was almost angry and frustrated at the quality of data that had come in. It angered me to see such heavy investments in the development sector misguiding us, misleading us, and it felt like a big part of the funds were put to no use. Cumulatively put together it was years of effort on the line, and the validity of our research was under question. I was confused, for I saw a huge opportunity for researchers and academics alike and no players. I thought maybe I could give it a shot, and see if people would support my effort! Hence, was born Outline India.
Outline India is a for-profit social enterprise attempting to solve the ‘first mile problem’ in India’s development sector, that is, the paucity of authentic and reliable data. Since the organization’s inception in 2012, my team and I have spearheaded projects across sectors as diverse as health, education and sanitation in over 2300 villages across 23 states.
Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote
I have a variety of initiatives planned for the near future. These include building a self-evaluation tool for NGOs across the country with the aim of ensuring accountability across the development sector. I would like to scale up our pilot project on integrating drones within social research and build maps or engage in infrastructural planning across rural India. In the context of these diverse projects, I hope to initiate partnerships with State and local governments and tie up with CSR extensions and philanthropists to further our reach within India and the subcontinent. It would also be wonderful to work in Bangladesh to begin with and South Asia going further.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
Considering the developmental challenges that our country faces, there exist several hurdles in our line of work. These include insufficient human resource at the ground level, limited bandwidth to use datasets for further research and program design, working in conflict areas in India, issues of safety, connectivity or simply working in areas of unrest. Furthermore, I have led Outline India as a bootstrapped enterprise since its inception. We are a profitable enterprise and our currently seeking investors to scale up our operations and diversify our services in the social space.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
My greatest achievement has been seeing Outline India’s work in the data research sphere translate into tangible action on the ground. Our impact can be measured in both direct and indirect terms. We help policymakers decide on the nature and course of action. The indirect effects of data collection in the social sector space include an increase in awareness both for the respondents on the ground and for the field workers conducting the surveys.
Taking the example of our pilot study on the integration of UAV’s in social sector research, we were able to correctly locate, map and understand the pressing issue of drainage in the chosen village and subsequently, assist the Sarpanch in creating an accurate and feasible development plan for the village.
What does the future hold for you?
My immediate future goal is to seek funding, which will enable us to scale up our operations and diversify our services in the development sector. We are currently in the process of creating a Self-Evaluation Platform that will enable NGOs across the country to grow and build accountability in the development sector. We would like to expand our engagement with local and state governments and continue the process of creating social impact through data.