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Akanksha Hazari

Honoree, 2017

Akanksha Hazari

Focus Areas

Economic Empowerment

“We are this ‘Generation Next,’ where our dreams have no walls. We want to change the world. We know that we can do better. Therefore we believe that we must do better.”

Akanksha Hazari aspires to empower people in underserved communities to achieve the life they imagine. She’ s realizing her vision through her social business m.Paani, India’ s first loyalty platform for mass-market consumers and micro-businesses. “We’ re living in a really special moment – this moment of the possible,” says Akanksha.

Her journey is living proof of the power of possibility. Despite their humble beginnings, Akanksha’ s parents encouraged her to rise above the odds, and she did. She earned degrees at Princeton and Cambridge universities, then returned home to ensure that her opportunity would bring value to others. Akanksha remembers growing up with a daily reminder from her mother: “The value of your life is defined by the positive difference you make in the lives of others.” She says these words have shaped who she is and how she views the world.

While working in rural India she gained the breakthrough insight that would inspire her purpose-driven business, m.Paani. Akanksha realized that even in areas where infrastructure and service delivery were inadequate, there was one tool nearly everyone had access to: a mobile phone. She decided to turn access to phones into access to social goods, including clean water, healthcare, education and energy.

“The mobile phone is a very ubiquitous device now. In many ways it’ s the great equalizer,” says Akanksha. Worldwide, mobile phone penetration is highest among low-income populations, and telecom is the fastest-growing industry in emerging markets. In a world where 2.5 billion people don’ t have access to safe water or sanitation, more than 6 billion now have access to mobile phones.

Akanksha recognized the enormous possibility in mobile phone access and in 2011 she led a team of like-minded students to win the Hult Prize and $1 million in seed capital to develop the m.Paani business model. Two years later, she launched the mobile-based company.

m.Paani’ s loyalty platform empowers consumers by rewarding spend at in-network partners with points that can be redeemed for life changing rewards, such as water filters, the first reward the company offered and the inspiration for its name: m stands for mobile and paani means water in Hindi. For micro-businesses, being an m.Paani partner is an opportunity for revenue growth and modernization in a rapidly evolving retail environment. The bulk of m.Paani partners are micro-businesses, which account for 80% of India’ s retail market.

Through m.Paani, Akanksha is bringing a ‘data dark’ population into the light. Typical m.Paani users aren’ t plugged in to the digital economy; many don’ t have bank accounts or access to traditional financial tools or resources, such as credit or loans. But now, the proprietary data m.Paani collects is building a 360 view of this offline segment, enabling Akanksha and her team to deliver unique value and innovate new products to further empower users.

In the next three years Akanksha aims to scale m.Paani to reach 50 cities in India, and then expand across emerging markets, including into Africa and Southeast Asia. As she balances rapid growth with continuous innovation, she remains focused on her vision: to run a purpose-driven company that builds products that enable underserved communities to invest in their own future.

Akanksha was a Global Leadership Awardee, and an inspiration behind the Target limited time collection, A New Day + Vital Voices.