‘We provide solutions for the poor directly’

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Toshi Nakamura Co-Founder, Kopernik INC
Toshi Nakamura Co-Founder, Kopernik Inc Photo: Ishan Tankha

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

Is there any reason why Indonesia was chosen as Kopernik’s operations hub?

Both co-founders (Nakamura and Ewa Wojkowska) worked in Indonesia while at the UN, so we understood the country and had reasonable networks. This was useful to kick-start Kopernik projects.

How many projects have you undertaken in India and which was the most successful?

We have implemented four projects — drip irrigation, subsidised solar lights and water filters (all in Odisha) and subsidised smart stoves in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. All had positive impacts on the community.

You left the UN after a decade because you felt that it wasn’t the right vehicle to make a difference. Could you specify the problems with the UN’s approach and how to fix them?

The UN focusses on supporting and empowering the government to deliver social goods, and that’s extremely important. We felt that this approach needs to be complemented by strong grassroots level activities. We also felt that there are a growing number of new approaches and innovations for the poor, and we can fill the gap by actively introducing these solutions to the poor directly.

Many of the people who are likely to benefit from the technologies provided by Kopernik are still cut off from the Internet revolution. How do you plan to reach them?

We work with the existing local organisations that can go to the bigger cities and have access to the Internet; that’s how they have contacted us. Based on my experience, even in remote villages of Sierra Leone, local organisations can have access to Internet. If we worked with the rural communities directly, we might have problems, but we work with local NGOs that can access the Internet.

When a natural disaster strikes, the victims need instant help. The crowdfunding approach is not suitable in this case. How does Kopernik deal with such situations?

We did crowdfunded projects in the aftermath of the floods in Indonesia and the tsunami in Japan, and were able to mobilise funds within two days. Donations are more likely to come fast for emergency situations. The challenge is to build distribution networks in the aftermath.

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