“Mahabubnagar girl makes it to ‘Forbes 30 under 30 list’

Twenty-six-year-old Svetha Janumpalli didn’t go to “Stanford or any of the big schools”. Neither was she born with a silver spoon. Her father from Jadcherla, a small town in Mahbubnagar district, went to the US on a scholarship while her mother, who’s from Gadwal, studied only till Class VI.

“My father moved to the US in the ’70s, but the department he was studying in closed down; so he set up a repair business to earn a living. My mother used to work for an insurance company, and when my father’s profits were negative, my mother supported the family. We are three sisters and I was pretty young at that time. But we used to joke that we would get new jeans only during holidays,” says Svetha, who was born in the US.

Mentioned in the annual lists of ‘Forbes 30 under 30’ social entrepreneurs, PartyCorps, Changemakers and the Clinton Global Initiative (2012), here is Svetha, years later, heading an organisation that the international press states is the “the world’s favourite anti-poverty device”.

And that device, where one “can save a child for the cost of a pair of shoe” is called New Incentives. Founded by Svetha at 23, it is a non-profit organisation dedicated to Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) — poor women are given money to visit HIV clinics or children are given money to go to schools.

As an experiment, Svetha moved to Nigeria two weeks back to prove that this model can work in a country that needs it the most. More than three million people living in Nigeria are affected with AIDS and one out of three mothers transmits this virus to their child. “So I am here for a year. And if the model works successfully, it will be easier to replicate it in other countries, including India.”

Svetha had set up the organisation in San Francisco after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2008. Till date, her organisation has been able to help around 400 mothers and their families and she hopes to take the number to 1000. “There are free clinics in Nigeria, but when the time spent by a woman at a clinic results in her losing money, why would she come to the clinic? And that’s where the CCT model helps.”

Svetha travelled to India with her mother frequently till 2009, and it was during one of these visits that she came across drastic poverty levels. “The idea to start New Incentives came after the realisation that there are many in India who have resources and if divided well, they can be used to help the poor.” She had tested the pilot projects in a few villages in Andhra Pradesh.

Svetha is not sure where she will be heading to after Nigeria. “My fiancé is from Nepal and he might want to stay there after marriage. I love India and San Francisco, so I am not sure where I’ll be staying next”.


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