Svetha Janumpalli is the CEO of New Incentives, an organization she founded to bring conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs) to the nonprofit sector. New Incentives provides monetary stipends to HIV-positive women in West Africa, on the condition that they regularly visit clinics and take medication to ensure their children are born HIV-free. We were able to ask Svetha a few questions about social change, her challenges, and what the future holds.
How were you influenced to get involved with social change?
Although I was born in the US, most of my family is in India. I frequently visited my mother’s village and witnessed how great the struggle of everyday life can be. I saw how much more comfortable my life as a middle-class American girl was—just because my parents immigrated to the US. I felt a deep discomfort with the advantages I had, and hoped to someday reduce this difference.
New Incentives utilizes conditional cash transfers, why did you choose this model?
Conditional cash transfers are quite simple: it’s giving money to the poor for fulfilling health goals. Governments are investing over $30 billion every year on conditional cash transfers (CCTs), and there are hundreds of well-conducted studies proving the impact of these programs. Yet, how it is that there aren’t nonprofits dedicated to raising money from donors to support these programs? When I learned about CCTs, I was furious that limited donor funding wasn’t going into these proven programs. Evidence proves that giving cash transfers are the best gift, because there is no one who knows their needs better than the poor themselves. I fell in love with the simplicity and the impact of the CCT model.
What are your biggest challenges, and your biggest rewards?
Moving to Nigeria with my husband on a 2-month notice was quite challenging, especially given how differently things work here. At the same time, moving to Nigeria and working on New Incentives has helped me become part of a rich culture. I have grown more in the last year than I could’ve imagined; personal growth is a very important reward for me.
The biggest reward is working on the ground and getting to know the lives of the women we are serving, and knowing how we’re impacting their lives and what we can learn from them.
What do you hope to achieve in 5 years?
I hope that New Incentives is able to scale across Nigeria and serve tens of thousands of women. I also hope to start assisting governments with cash transfer programs to help people out of poverty.
What is your advice to young girls who want to get involved and make global change?
It’s always very important to question the value of what you are doing. When you find a project that you are passionate about, take the time to thoroughly question how it works and evaluate the results of it. Understanding how exactly something works is not only rewarding, but essential to creating lasting change. One of the websites that taught me how to question impact is www.GiveWell.org.
A photo from Svetha’s recent wedding