India may be one of the most populous countries in the world, but it's facing a serious skilled workforce crisis. In fact, the dearth of skilled laborers has become such an issue of concern that the Indian government created the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a public-private partnership to promote skill development and provide funding for scalable, for-profit vocational programs.
One nonprofit addressing India’s skilled workforce crisis is iStar, a skills development company that works with colleges, government agencies, NGOs, and corporations to “align candidates'/employees' skills with the exact requirements of the workplace.”
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation led the latest $1.5 million investment round for iStar Skill Development. Unitus Seed Fund, a seed stage investor that backs a number of high-growth sectors in India, also participated in this latest funding round. Unitus Seed Fund has made past investments in iStar, and has itself received financial support from NGOs such as the Dell, Gates, and Lemelson foundations.
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is pretty selective when making impact investments and only backs companies with goals that are closely aligned with the foundation’s traditional grantmaking mission. However, that’s not to say that Dell is averse to taking some calculated risks with its program-related investments. According to the foundation, “We like investments aimed at pushing the boundaries.”
Dell’s investment in iStar isn’t particularly risky, as there is a clear demand for skilled workers in India. And there's perhaps an even clearer need for those jobs, given that the national poverty rate is between 31 and 37 percent. But this particular investment falls into another one of the stated principles driving Dell's impact investments—addressing global health and development issues on a large and systemic scale. Not to mention that the foundation has been engaged in supporting education, health, and economic stability efforts in India for quite some time now, both through its traditional grantmaking and impact investing.
iStar concentrates its efforts on those living in low- and middle-income regions of India. To date, the company has trained more than 5,000 students since its inception in 2013.