SARDI India MSME Tech Policy Fellowship Program

Posted 3 weeks ago

Request for Proposals from Think Tanks

Terms of reference:

USAID through its South Asia Regional Digital Initiative (SARDI) is launching a fellowship program to conduct policy research at the intersection of digitalization and MSMEs in India. SARDI currently implements two activities focused on digital upskilling and policy awareness & capacity-building with entrepreneurs and MSMEs in India. The fellowship program seeks to complement these activities by also ensuring MSME perspectives and challenges are incorporated in policy development. The focus is on finding ways in which overall digital adoption and digital transformation can thus be achieved for the MSMEs in India. The fellowship program will provide policy recommendations that can be readily taken up for action through coordinated efforts of various government agencies.

SARDI is managed by DAI. The latter has collaborated with LEAD at Krea University to anchor the fellowship program. LEAD will provide key technical and operational support to DAI in ensuring the objective of the fellowship is attained and establishing synergy with other initiatives under SARDI. The fellowship program will require support from up to three reputed think tanks who will be selected to host three research fellows for up to nine months. LEAD has been given the mandate to select the think tanks as well as the research fellows. (The definition of ‘think tank’ is expansive and includes all organizations who have thought leadership in the policy space, digitalization, MSMEs. It thus includes the traditional think tanks as well universities, research centers, NGOs, etc).

The think tanks are expected to provide day-to-day mentoring support to the fellows through a dedicated mentor/advisor and/or a group of mentors/advisors from September 2022 to May 2023. The nine-month fellowship shall include an interim learning event, organized by LEAD, to invite thoughts from the government and industry representatives such that any course correction in the fellowship focus can be made. This will be supplemented by regular discussions with USAID, DAI and LEAD who will provide technical and operational support as needed. The think tank may consider whether in view of the evolving pandemic situation, it would prefer to host the fellows virtually or have them based out of its premises. Please mention your preference in your application.

The fellows will be directly compensated by LEAD both in terms of remunerations, reimbursables and field research costs (if any). The think tanks will not be monetarily compensated for hosting the fellows. However, it is envisaged and expected that the level of exposure through networking opportunities, the ability to shape and influence policymaking that can have such a tangible effect on MSMEs, and the visibility gained by research publication and dissemination are some of the enormous benefits to the chosen applicants. The policy research as a result of the fellowship shall be disseminated by the think tanks and the fellows to an appropriate audience at learning events like seminars and conferences organized by LEAD. Multi-stakeholder engagement at a sectoral level, coordinated by LEAD, will provide opportunities to network. Based on the nature of the relationship forged, the fellows hosted may continue to support the think tank in their future endeavors.

LEAD believes that since much of the day-to-day work of the fellows will involve close support from the think tanks, it is crucial that the research fellows should be selected jointly by it and the think tanks, with overall strategic direction from DAI. Therefore, the fellows will be selected in coordination with the chosen think tanks.  

Key competencies and selection criteria:
LEAD herewith opens the applications for think tanks, inviting expression of interest in hosting the fellowship (See Annex for the application template). The fellowship program has its ethos and ambition rooted in diversity. It hence encourages think tanks based out of smaller cities, working on marginalized communities and on frontier digital topics to apply. Below is the list of key competencies we are looking for as well as the selection criteria weightage. The Annex provides the application template.

1. Published work in domains of MSME and digital technologies. 

Weightage in overall score: 40%
Digital focus
– Digital financial services, Privacy, Fraud, Digital literacy, E-commerce and government procurement, Government registration and taxation, New technologies: 3D printing, blockchain, AI, deep data analytics, Others

MSME focus
– Microenterprises (above INR 0.1 million monthly turnover), Industrial city/town clusters, Lead bank scheme, Start-ups and entrepreneurship, Value chains and supply chains, Women-led enterprises, Microfinance and SHGs, Artisans (and traditional village clusters), Street vendors, Gig workers, Impact of Covid-19 (contact sectors), Others

(The nature of published work can be informed by primary or secondary research. The former would be preferred. The published work can include peer-reviewed journals, articles, blogs, working papers, briefs, op-eds, etc. Peer reviewed journal papers would be given preference.)
2. Strength of relationship with government & industry 

Weightage: 30%
– Seminars/conferences hosted and invitees include government and industry representatives
– Former government staff (retired bureaucrats, etc.) on board or as fellows 
– Depth of contact with the different central government ministries and departments therein and the seniority of the contact (joint secretary and above): (See Annex). 

(An example of ‘depth of contact’ can be instances where the government reaches out to the think tank for policy development or legislation support and accepts majority of its recommendations. Or the senior leadership of the think tank is/was part of an expert committee or a working group to examine a particular aspect related to MSMEs and/or digitalization, such as sharing of non-personal digital data. Crucially, if the think tank contributed to a change/amendment in the policy approach as an example of evidence-based policymaking.)  

– Depth of contact with industry in the form of providing consulting/advisory support to CXOs of the firms in informing their business strategy design and execution plan. The firms can be from different industries (FMCG, telecom, hospitality, BFSI, IT and ITes,etc.), private equity, venture capital & impact investors, social enterprises, etc. 

(An example of ‘depth of contact’ can be instances where an impact investor reaches out to the think tank to provide inputs on the challenges faced by technology start-ups in providing full stack digital solutions for MSMEs. Or where an FMCG company aims to improve its ESG credentials by working together with MSMEs in their digitalization.) 
3. Key staff qualifications

Weightage: 30%
– Demonstration of influence in the digital policy space
– Demonstrated successful mentorship/hosting experience in guiding researchers ask the correct questions, seek the appropriate
data, and showcase their research/findings to influential and relevant stakeholders
– Deep understanding and familiarity with the MSME sector
– No. of relevant publications (peer-reviewed journals, articles, blogs, working papers, op-eds, etc.)


  1. Start date of inviting application: 14th July, 2022
  2. Last date for receiving queries/clarifications on ToR/RFP: 25th July, 2022
  3. Last date of accepting applications: 12th August, 2022 (extended from 31th July, 2022)

Mode of application:

  1. The applications can be sent to and cc
  2. Request you to use the font Times New Roman, 12 pp, single line spacing. Please ensure that you attached a single PDF without password. 
  3. Please name the file SARDI_Name of the think tank__Response to RFP  and add the subject line in the email SARDI | Name of the think tank.  
  4. Please use the subject line SARDI_Name of the think tank_Clarification on RFP for raising any query regarding the ToR, application process and the overall project clarification. 
  5. The applications submitted after the mentioned date will not be accepted. 
  6. Please refer to the Annex here for the Template for RFP.