Who will question the relentless pursuit of growth?

At a recent conference on sustainable development, the Group Head of Sustainability at IKEA, Steve Howard, said the consumer in the West had reached ‘peak stuff’ including ‘peak furnishings and peak curtains’. A controversial statement for someone who works for one of the world’s largest furniture retailer. Howard was quick to add that this new reality did not stand in the way of IKEA’s target of doubling sales by 2020. The solution – IKEA would churn out more environment friendly products that helped consumers make better choices, or what Howard, referred to as the ‘circular IKEA’, where repair and recycling are served up as part of one big happy buying cycle. In other words, Western consumers who had hit peak stuff could be nudged to buy more so long as it came with a ‘green’ Kool-Aid to wash down the guilt!

Maybe Howard was being politically correct or maybe he truly believes that these two seemingly conflicting realities can and should co – exist, but a question worth investigating is whether sustainability within companies will always have to bow at the altar of growth? Can sustainability chiefs steer their bosses away from chasing higher growth targets without risking their jobs or being cast aside as dreamers? Because at some point, no matter how green your stuff is, it’s still ‘stuff’, and more stuff, necessarily means more drain on finite resources, more energy consumption, more waste and more of the same unsustainable behaviour loops.

But is there really a world outside growth for modern day organisations, beholden as they are to shareholder and investor interests? Enter Benefit Corporations – legal corporate entities in the US, whose stated mission, purpose and obligations extends beyond generating value for their shareholders, to include consideration for environmental and social impacts. This legislation opens a space for companies that are not driven by the single point agenda of higher shareholder returns.

Often mistaken for Benefit Corporations, another breed of companies called B-Corps are slowly making their way into the world of business. They aspire to the highest standards of environmental and social performance, transparency and accountability and place people and planet ahead of profits. The list of B-Corp certified companies is growing each year, but most of them are sole proprietors or small and mid-sized businesses. In 2014, Natura, a Brazilian beauty brand, became the world’s largest public B – Corp and in late 2015, multinational giants like Unilever and Danone have begun to engage with the B – Corp movement. These developments point to a different way of imagining growth and is definitely a positive trend.

An interesting example of an outlier brand is Patagonia, a US-based, popular outdoor clothing and gear designer and manufacturer, who has actively pursued an anti-growth strategy, asking consumers to buy less of their products. In 2011, the B -Corp certified company published a New York Times ad, with a photo of their jacket and the caption, ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ – advising consumers to consume less (and subtly hinting at the long life of Patagonia jackets). Ironically, the tag ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ showed up on the Black Friday winter clothing line the same year, and consumers flocked to buy the jacket, handing the company a 30% sales increase! A Bloomberg article reported that the ‘buy less’ marketing mantra has resulted in a surge in Patagonia sales, with new stores mushrooming across the US. Maybe the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Notwithstanding how the story unfolded, it was certainly a worthy attempt to question the premise of endless consumerism and growth.

In India too, conscious corporate behaviour is seeing the dawn of light with young start-ups taking the lead. Delhi-based Korra Jeans makes organic denims, with locally sourced materials, tailored from start to finish by a single tailor, thus departing from the ‘mass manufacturing’ model of fast fashion and embracing a model where work, craftsmanship, environment and social sustainability are all rolled into a pair of jeans!

But Patagonia and its ilk are still a blip on the radar. And while movements that give corporates a conscience are welcome, they remain Band-Aid solutions, in so far as they operate on the fringes. For most companies growth and profits are still the umbilical cord they cannot sever. And this makes things difficult for those sustainability professionals who are interested in crafting an alternative narrative that is not fixated on chasing ever higher growth targets.

One thing is clear – given the looming environmental and social crisis, there is no shying away from unpopular conversations, including those questioning unrestrained growth; and for better or worse, CSR and sustainability teams need to lead these discussions and forge collaborative partnerships to arrive at solutions. Acceptance and solutions will not come overnight, assuming they come at all, but the stakes are so high that we have to give it our best shot!

The fact that ‘anti-growth’, however limited its scope and effect, has seeped into the business lexicon, is in itself a progressive step. Besides, no matter how you view the solution Howard proposes to the problem of ‘peak stuff’, he did point out to a very important shift in consumer behaviour, and gave a warning of sorts. Perhaps for now the consumer will be satiated with green products, and IKEA and others can continue on their growth path unhindered, albeit in a greener avatar; but soon, that won’t be the case. Whether or not consumers come to question consumerism in all its colours, the Earth definitely is reaching ‘peak stuff’ and when that happens, the growth option will be off the table. The question is whether we act now and participate in shaping our future and collective destiny or we simply react to what destiny sends our way.

Antaash Sheikh is a communications and CSR professional, based out of Bangalore. The views expressed here are her own.

K.C Mishra: transforming India through the use of ICT and eKutir

KC Mishra (KC) is a veteran social innovator and Ashoka fellow, who has 30 years of leadership experience in areas like rural banking, microfinance, agriculture development, education and technology services. An Ashoka Fellow, KC has many certification and accolades under his belt. He is certified in “Innovative Organizational Model of Farmers” from Graduate Institute of Co-operative Leadership (GICL), University of Missouri, is an honorary trustee to Global Knowledge Partnership Foundation (GKPF), and an Advisor to BoP (Base of Pyramid) Hub.

In 2009, KC founded eKutir (eKutir Rural Management Services Private Limited), a socially focused venture engaged in innovating new products, services, and sustainable models of development at the BoP market. While eKutir is inspired by the Hubli Sandbox model philosophy, and is part of Action For India’s (AFI) Vision 2020 project whose goal is to create 20 Hubli type sandboxes by the 2020, it is different, because all its initiatives are for-profit.

Currently operating out of Odisha. It works in three areas: agriculture (Krishi Vikas), sanitation (Svadha), and social finance (One Acre Venture). It also operates a e-commerce venture called VeggieKart. Broadly, eKutir acts as an incubator that validates ideas, tests them in the field, iterates if necessary, and after validation, packages and releases them into BoP markets.

KC decided to choose the Hubli Sandbox model, because he believes that the Sandbox as a concept is a good initiative, that brings together young talent and ideas, where their ideas can be accepted, and they receive the required guidance. Since the Hubli Sandbox has demonstrated success in scaling, he believes, that following the model was a good idea. “Orissa needs good initiatives to create social impact. Lots of youngsters, have ideas, but need a forum to experiment, and need the help of experts take it to field. When AFI wanted to popularise the Sandbox model, I said yes,” says KC. KC has been busy popularizing the eKutir idea in among individuals who have ideas to solve problems of society.

One of the key things that eKutir offers is the strong mentoring, provided by a network of partners including: AFI, BOP Hubs (Singapore), Ashoka group and Headstart.
They have already incubated two ventures. “Svadha was formed when Garima Sahai resigned her job and wanted to do something in social entrepreneurship. Ekutir had a bunch of ideas. We incubated Svadha together and it is doing exceedingly well now,” adds KC. Svadha is a subsidiary of eKutir that works in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

The idea to form VeggieKart came from linking farmers to consumers. They adopted a new design and co-designed innovations, these designs and ideas in terms of product portfolio, price, packaging and last mile delivery solutions were validated in the last mile lab. It is doing really well, KC wants to replicate in India across the globe: already different organizations in Africa and even US have shown interest.

Through Krishi Vikas Initiative, eKutir offers ICT enabled tools to farmers for soil nutrient analysis, seed selection and farmer portfolio management. In addition, they support local farmers by setting up franchises and local hubs, and provide training to local entrepreneurs on agricultural advice and trade information.

The role of partners is very important at eKutir. They have 32 partners including foundations, think tanks, universities and corporates. Some of them include Unilever, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Intel, Ashoka, BoP Connect, BoP Hub, Grameen, Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) and Yunus Social Business.

The impact so far has been encouraging. “With agriculture, we are working with 1000 farmers, and by linking farmers to cities, we are encouraging more than 100 micro-entrepreneurs to sell directly to consumers. In sanitation, we are engaged with 126 entrepreneurs and have built 10,000 toilets so far, that impacts close to 50,000 people: We have touched 20,000 individuals through information and communication technology (ICT) for which we won a Facebook innovation award,” says KC.

eKutir is currently welcoming social entrepreneurs and offers full infrastructure support, human resources, legal advice, mentoring, supply chain support and investment help.

Please contact +91 674 255 5550 (http://www.ekutirsb.com) for more.

This article first appeared on the Facebook page of Action for India.

Meghshala, a school on the cloud that looks beyond textbooks

Here’s a fact.

In India, one in every five primary school teachers in India, lacks the stipulated minimum academic qualifications to teach a class. A group of intellectuals decide to fix this problem using technology. The result is Meghshala, which literally means ‘a school on cloud’. Meghshala is a charitable trust that creates thought-provoking learning experiences designed and delivered using cloud computing.

The problem that is that teachers and students in government and low income schools lack resources, motivation, and skills to be effective. This results in poor teaching outcomes with students not proficient in basic math, language or science knowledge and skills. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 report shows that barely half of children in grade 5 could read a grade 2 level text.   “The dire need for reinventing our teacher training system in the country got us to start Meghshala,” says Ullas Kumar, VP Education Operations at Meghshala.  The founders of Meghshala— Jyoti Thyagarajan and Sridhar Ranganathan—decided to equip teachers with advanced tools to create an engaging classroom experience for the students. Meghshala aims to accelerate student learning and ease classroom instruction by using technology as a medium.

The Meghshala team comprises of an enthusiastic bunch of eighteen people who have deep expertise in multiple fields, ranging from digital media and graphic arts to content writing and education. “Most of us have been teachers in government, private and international schools,” says Amrutha Murali, the implementation and partner manager at Meghshala. “The one common thing that binds us together is our innate drive to bridge the education gap.”

The name Meghshala aptly portrays the way this social enterprise operates. In Sanskrit, ‘Megh’ means cloud and ‘Shala’ means school, Meghshala, therefore, stands for ‘a school on the cloud.’ The name encapsulates idea of delivering thought-provoking learning experiences using cloud technology across different schools.

The charitable trust is currently based in Bengaluru, working with 15 classrooms and is planning to reach 219 classrooms, 520 teachers, and 6570 students in Karnataka by the end of this year.

Creative learning process

Meghshala believes in creating a classroom where students and teachers enjoy the process of learning. “Curiosity and fun are an integral part of any classroom,” says Ullas Kumar, VP education operations at Meghshala. “Our lessons are built to bring the ‘AHA!’ moments in the classroom for both the teachers and students.”

The unique initiative provides an adaptive learning solution called Teach Kits. This learning solution incorporates a deluge of multimedia content such as videos, images, real-life stories, activities and powerful questions. These Teach kits are hosted on a cloud-based learning management system which can be accessed by teachers across different schools. Through Teach Kits, Meghshala transforms prescribed list of topics into an exciting, informative and thoughtful curriculum.

“The virtual platform allows us to scale across borders and impact the maximum number of teachers,” says Ullas. “Our impact is gauged using data collected through phones and tablets used by our implementation managers.”

Meghshala trains teachers by supporting them with ‘virtual master tutors’ in class. “The support will be in the form of instructions which are customized to the level of the teacher,” says Ullas. “Teachers will also be provided physical support in the classroom to ensure better adoption of our material.”

The Meghshala cloud is populated with lessons on every chapter—from Grade 1 to Grade 10. All these lessons are taught with the skill of a master teacher, a person who has deep knowledge in the field of education or a specific topic. The units help students learn and recall facts understand the process, think about applications, analyze data, evaluate answers and envision creative solutions to authentic real life problems.

“Each unit will be informed by a set of basic values and ethical stances. Supported by our instructions, teachers will execute these lessons in class. Teachers will initially follow these instructions but will later be encouraged to customize and create new lessons according to their requirement,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala team encourages students to actively participate in debates, discussions, while showing powerful videos with relevant questions. “These kinds of activities help students hone and develop other skill sets,” says Amrutha.

Looking beyond textbooks

Meghshala has paved the way for students and teachers to look far and beyond textbooks. The Meghshala lessons give access and exposure to information to teachers and students which are not available in textbooks. The teachers who are working with Meghshala have been highly receptive and understand integrating technology within education is the way forward.

“The students enjoy learning this way. They like the videos and the activities the teach kits provide. They specifically ask the teachers to use the Meghshala lessons to teach,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala has conducted pre and post tests during its pilot project and witnessed tremendous increase in test scores. The company could see the growth in as less as four months. “Going beyond the marks or the scores, we see a huge change in the classroom atmosphere. Kids are engaging in discussions, teachers are conducting activities to improve understanding. It’s an engaging, vibrant learning environment we see,” says Amrutha.

Creating social impact

Unlike other reputed institutions that educate students with an individualistic approach, Meghshala aims at creating social impact by incorporating ‘learner profiles’ which push students towards realizing their responsibility towards society at large.

“For example, during the implementation of one of our Grade 8 Mathematics lessons on Simple Interest, the teacher delivering the lesson also created the space for students to empathize with struggling farmers and the farmer suicides prevalent in rural Maharashtra. The Teach Kit guided the teacher to ask powerful questions and propelled students to critically examine about the community around them. This whole exercise was completed whilst learning a basic concept of Grade 8 Mathematics,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala motivates teachers to create rich learning environments which in turn help where students become aware of existing social issues and collaborate to find solutions. The company makes an effort to inspire students to be a helping hand and bring what they have learned to their community and grow up to become responsible citizens. “We believe that a population gainfully employed in finding solutions to social problems will have positive impacts on the global economy and conscience,” says Amrutha.

Broadening horizons  

This unique initiative has received positive response from both the teachers and students in its partner schools. Meghshala aims to impact 100,000 teachers by 2020. The company further plans to expand its operations across the country and abroad. “In the coming year we are planning on expanding into Kenya and few other African countries,” says Amrutha. “We see our self as enablers of human resources. We dream that we can help set the stage for India to be a true leader of the global economy.”


Forgot your child’s vaccination date? vRemind is here to help

Nagesh Chukka, Assistant Vice President from Wells Fargo in Hyderabad, was shocked when he realized he had forgotten about the vaccination appointment of his child. On checking with his friends, he was told that this was a prevalent problem, as there was no good way of tracking vaccination schedules. According to WHO, in India alone, every year, 100,000 kids (aged under five) are losing their lives to vaccine preventable diseases. Even though the government, under Universal Immunization Program (UIP) provides free vaccination, the reach and coverage of this program is very low.

Nagesh decided to use technology to help solve this issue by founding vRemind, a social not-for-profit organization, which is committed to reduce child mortality by offering a simple and handy solution to the mobile driven community. “vRemind was started based on the personal pain I dealt with after I missed the vaccine appointment for my child,” says Nagesh. He and his colleague Srinivas Alluri got together to find a solution for an issue that is wide spread amongst the urban and rural population.

vRemind is a mobile-based health app that gives timely vaccination reminders to parents with children up to the age of five years by sending out one reminder seven days before the appointment, and one more, a day before the scheduled vaccination date. To increase the reach of this solution and not limiting it to just smart phones, the reminders are sent out as an SMS.

Nagesh and Srinivas are leveraging the low-cost tools of the digital revolution to provide simplified solutions that make an impact on the healthcare sector by hopefully saving the lives of thousands of kids in India.

Currently vRemind has more than 10,000 plus subscribers (parents/caregivers) and close to 31,000 SMS reminders have been sent out till date. Since its launch, the app has been enhanced to include multiple channels of registration (along-side the already existing SMS program) like partner networks (hospitals and other birth places) and through website registrations. Nagesh claims that parents using this service are very pleased with the service and that most of them are now relying on this to be alerted in vaccination schedules. Currently the organization is tied up with LifeSpring Hospitals, a chain of twelve branches in Hyderabad, providing low-cost maternal care for the urban poor. They are also in discussions with three more low cost maternity/pediatric clinics.

A similar service in India is currently being provided by IAP-Immunizeindia. When parents opt-in to the service by sending a text message to the national shortcode 566778 from any mobile phone in India, they receive text message reminders for the next twelve years with the vaccination schedules for the child.

The founders point out that their major challenge is frequent SIM changes and penetration of mobile phone usage in the rural areas. To handle the diverse population in the country, many among whom are uneducated, there is also a need of a multi-language support, and an IVR. vRemind wants to address the accessibility issue by tying up with other health networks like ASHA (Accredited social health activists) and Anganwadi who currently have a good reach in the rural sectors.

vRemind is currently self-funded and is looking to work with hospitals to provide subscription models and white labeled solutions to generate revenue and sustain the operations, however, SMS reminders would continue to remain free for all the parents registered with the app directly.

Along with establishing partnerships with local communities/NGOs and low cost clinics, vRemind is looking to partner with government organizations and international NGOs like UNICEF and the WHO. The vision of vRemind for the next few years is to be the go-to mHealth providers in prenatal and postnatal care for the mother and child, which would also include their nutritional requirements. With the data they collect from their subscribers, there is also a plan to provide effective insights, and analytics to improve the supply chain management of vaccines. As the solution is scalable, it has potential to expand globally, to all the countries with mobile penetration.

PARI—a journal and archive of India’s ‘voiceless’

A screenshot from the PARI website (P.C.- PARI website)

A screenshot from the PARI website (P.C.- PARI website)

By Supriya Kumaraswamy

“This country and this society runs on the labor of very poor people, not on yours and mine,” P. Sainath, the founder-editor of People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and veteran development journalist, said at the launch of the website on Saturday.

PARI comes into the picture at this juncture. It tells the everyday tales of the trials and travails of these everyday people. It is an encyclopedia of rural India—or at least is attempting to be one—with an ever burgeoning collection that features audio, video, texts and photos. PARI now boasts of the only collection of its sort, with about 8,000 to 10,000 black and white images of rural India.

While urban India surges forward towards a more easy way and style of living, the ones oiling the wheels of this urban society are often ignored and pushed under the carpet.

However, Sainath said it was not a case of the forgotten poor, but a case of a blind urban India.

PARI hopes to perform a two-pronged role. On one end, it is an archive of India’s so-called dark underbelly that people conveniently ignore and the media doesn’t give due coverage to and on the other end, it functions, in many ways, as a living journal—a diary of-sorts to record the unique experiences of rural India.

The “highly hetereogenic and diverse” rural India is currently in throes of one of the most brutal transformations in history. Some of the most ancient cultures are breaking down, and many of the languages are going extinct.

Rural India, as Sainath puts it, is “a continent within a sub-continent.”

While PARI can be often mistaken for an extension of or something similar to the Humans of New York, the two don’t really have very many similarities beyond an extent.

PARI is attempting to make the people of the country not just aware but also appreciate and educate the back-breaking and herculean efforts made by these very ordinary people of the country.

PARI does not just focus on the rural population. It also focuses and highlights the plight of the rural migrant in the city and what he brings to the table in terms of ensuring the city is in motion.

“I am not trying to speak for them,” Sainath said about PARI. “I am just telling you that they have something to say. Do you want to listen?”

Sainath through PARI is trying to bring into media focus the bottom five percent of India’s population.

In a nutshell, PARI aims to capture the ugly, the barbaric, the beautiful and the to be cherished stories of rural India and its wide diaspora.

Sampurn(e)arth: From Waste Management to Wealth Generation

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or the Clean India Campaign has once again brought the issue of cleanliness to the center stage of Indian consciousness. While cleanliness is an issue the bigger challenge is urban waste management that needs a serious rethink. Urban India produces 1 lac metric tonnes of waste, most of which is disposed by dumping (in landfills and water bodies) or by incineration. Even though municipalities incur a huge expenditure on waste management, a staggering 90% of the sector is still unorganized. It is a clear and present danger to the health and well being of all, but mostly affects the refuse collectors and scavengers that have developed their livelihoods from collection and sale of waste materials.

It is now widely acknowledged that waste is an economic opportunity as well as a social responsibility. One enterprise that is taking a novel approach to solve this problem is Sampurn(e)arth. Founded by the enthusiastic troika of Jayant, Rhitwik and Debartha, Sampurn(e)arth provides comprehensive waste management solutions to bulk waste generators such as corporate houses, townships and educational campuses. These three Post Graduates with Masters in Social Entrepreneurship drive the company that is one of the 21 ventures incubated under the DBS-TISS Social Entrepreneurship Programme. DBS Bank India has been an active partner in their journey, moving beyond providing the seed capital to giving a helping hand in strategy and execution.

The name Sampurn(e)arth is apt for the vision of the young company. In Sanskrit, ‘sampurn’ means complete and curiously, ‘arth’ signifies money as well as meaning. The ‘E’ in the name signifies the planet Earth. Thus the name encapsulates the mission of this social enterprise – a for-profit organization pursuing innovative solutions to social problems.

The team strives to provide waste management solutions in an environmentally friendly manner, encouraging recycling, composting and biogas plants. It is a zero waste solution that keeps the environment clean and promotes sustainable development.  In the process the venture is also transforming the lives of the waste pickers and turning them into waste managers.  Sampurn(e)arth  works with Stree Mukti Sangathana (NGO that works for the up liftmen of women waste pickers ) has enabled a change in the lives of many  waste pickers like Maya Khandagale, now a Waste Manager. With waste segregated at source, Maya is involved in its efficient collection, segregation and conversion to manure. However, unlike the waste collectors, it is always an uneasy start for the residents who don’t want to go through the process of collecting dry waste and wet waste separately.

But as Debartha points out, “Sampurn(e)arth would want to evolve as a company which would play a crucial role in changing the perceptions and habits and not only meeting numeric targets.”
It isn’t surprising that Sampurn(e)arth has won accolades at several business plan competitions over the past 3 years. Its most significant win has been at the Global Social Venture Competition 2014 (www.gsvc.org) organized by the Haas School of Business of the University of California – Berkeley where it emerged as the winner from over 650 entries from 40 countries.

Till April 2014, Sampurn(e)arth has employed 32 people and handled 400 metric tonnes of dry waste and 620 metric tonnes of wet waste from over 50 clients. But these are just tiny steps for a company that aspires to increase its handling capacity to 500 metric tonnes a day and employ 1500 waste pickers, solving the problem of waste through innovation and perseverance.

DBS shares Sampurn(e)arth’s passion for bringing about a social change and improving the lives of those involved in India’s vast unorganized waste management sector. Our unique initiative Portraits of Purpose (PoP), provides you a peek into Sampurn(e)arth and many such organizations building the India of tomorrow.

Watch their story:

To be a part of our initiative, you could write to us at: PoP@dbs.com

This is a guest post by Sheran Mehra – Head Group Strategic Marketing and Communication (GSMC) DBS Bank India

So you want to be a social entrepreneur? Consider this before that big leap

Image courtesy: http://www.udaipurblog.com

You have been bitten by the social entrepreneurship bug and are itching to save the world and are ready to give up a well-paying corporate job without batting an eyelid.  This maybe a good starting point. But before you embark on that journey, be prepared for what’s ahead. For its very easy to end up doing the wrong thing with the spirit of wanting to do something good. Here’s a checklist that you might want to consider before you take that big leap.

Doing it for the right reasons:

About giving back to society and saving the world. Here’s a piece of advice. Don’t. The world doesn’t need another misinformed savior who thinks its his or her job to save the world. Altruism is good if you making a donation, running a marathon for a cause or volunteering for cause. Being a social entrepreneur requires different motivations and desires, and ideally it should be because you have identified a serious problem that needs solving, and have chanced upon the solution.

Most social entrepreneurs jump headlong into social entrepreneurship because they have an itch to scratch that has been bothering them for a long time. Their decision is not a swift one based an emotion, some new passion a quarter-life or mid-life crisis. They have usually have given it a lot of thought, understand the problem they want to solve and perhaps even have a viable solution in their mind.

Assess all risks:

Now that you have made up your mind, its time to assess the risks involved, at least the known ones, because nobody can be fully prepared for the long winding road of entrepreneurship. The risks are many: reduced finances, lack of support from family and friends, reputation at stake, start-up failure, inability to solve the problem effectively and so on.

Since social entrepreneurship won’t make you a millionaire overnight or a after a few grueling years, your finances are going to take a hit, be prepared for that. Have a contingency plan, and make sure that you have kept your loved ones in the loop, their support will play a key role between success and failure. You maybe convinced of the venture, but letting friends and family see the vision is also important, because they maybe the ones who are your first investors and biggest cheerleaders. Also, be ready for the social enterprise failing, if that happens, don’t consider this as a personal failure, its just a lesson learned. Assessing all risks will reduce nasty surprises en-route.

Make sure you have entrepreneurial chops:

Having the passion, insight and the ability to nail down the problem maybe enough. Most social entrepreneurs are usually first-time entrepreneurs and may not have completely assessed their ability to execute on their grand vision. You may have the heart for the venture, but with having the head and entrepreneurial chops, you might be going into a gunfight with a knife in your hand.

Remember that social entrepreneurship involves using commercial strategies to solve a social problem. That means having some kind of management acumen and the ability to plan and execute. If you don’t have the skills, fret not, many social business incubators in India and overseas will help you learn them. Just be aware of what you can and cannot do. That could make all the difference.

Be prepared to collaborate and build a team:

Here’s a theory. One of the biggest reasons many great non-profits did not fulfill their potential is because they were unable to do succession- planning, build second level management and inability to build a complete team. A lot of social enterprises begin with the vision of a single founder. Now this is great for a start, but to keep the engine running will require a complete team. Ideally a second or third co-founder and highly competent top level team. This leaves the founder or founders with task of focusing on strategy and revisiting the vision, if required.

Collaboration is another very important aspect that determines the success and survival instincts of a social enterprise. Leaning on others who are more competent in certain areas ensures that social enterprises don’t attempt at doing everything themselves or be absorbed in activities that involve reinventing the wheel. Collaboration is not giving up power, but tapping the strength of other individuals and institutions, helping realize the goals of the organization faster and more efficiently.

 Patience and the ability to stick around for the long-haul will make all the difference:

It is always darkest before dawn. In the world of social enterprise, the darkness before the dawn is a long period, the reason being that, unlike start-ups targeting traditional sectors the gestation period for social enterprises is longer. Most of them are strapped for resources, lack talent, are in need of funding and find it hard to balance social impact and commercial gain.

The key here is to understand that there is no overnight success with social entrepreneurs. You don’t build an app, grow an audience with a two-member team and then cut a deal with Google or Facebook for a billion dollars. Success with social enterprise takes long years, and even then it does not come with a billion dollar exit.

But for those who wait, saving the world, does not remain a pipe-dream, it is a step closer to sweet reality.

You are ready

Note: This is the second article in a social enterprise toolkit series that SocialStory is doing. It is designed to be useful for the  first-time social entrepreneur, or for anybody interested in this space. Here’s the first article.

This article is being republished with permission from SocialStory.

Wondering which legal structure to choose for your social enterprise? Read on…

Image courtesy: http://www.psdnetwork.com

Image courtesy: http://www.psdnetwork.com

One of the most important decisions to be made before launching a social enterprise is choosing a legal structure.

Why is this important? There are a number of reasons and implications as to why it is important to pay attention to legal structure. Some of them are: how the social enterprise gets funded, how the profits (if any) get distributed, governance structure, reporting responsibilities, tax liabilities, and ownership pattern.

India, unlike many other countries – like the US and the UK – does not have plenty of leeway in terms of legally structuring a social enterprise. In the US, for example, there are many options, which have been specially carved out keeping the needs of a social enterprise in mind. They are low-profit limited liability company (L3C), Benefit Corporations, Certified Benefit Corporations (B Corps) and Flexible Purpose Corporations.

India, on the other hand, has limited options in terms of legal structure. Broadly speaking, there are four types of legal structures that social enterprise can opt for. We give you a gist of each one of them, along with the pros and cons.

Non-profit or public charitable organization:

Non-profits can register as a Trust (under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882),  a Section 25 company (under of the Companies Act, 1956) or as a Society (pertaining to societies registration, of the concerned state). The biggest benefit of registering as a non-profit is the eligibility to get tax benefits under the Income Tax Act of 1961 and they can also accept foreign donations under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

The non-profit model is best suited for start-ups that do not expect revenues from their activities or have a long gestation period before they start to accrue revenues. Examples of non-profits include Agastya Foundation, Teach for India, Digital Green and Akshaya Patra Foundation. They strive to achieve scale and replicate their work across many geographies using commercial strategies. Their way of sustaining themselves financially is through grants and donations. One of the problems with this model is that perhaps the inability to hire top-class talent or invest in latest technology and infrastructure.

Pros: Ability to focus solely on creating social impact without the pressure of financial return.

Cons: Constant need to raise funds.

The for-profit social enterprise:

In India there are many choices when it comes to setting up a for-profit social enterprise. Broadly, there are five different types of for-profits: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability partnership, private firm and co-operative.

This type of legal structure is perhaps best suited for social enterprises that are looking for growth and profitability. It comes as no surprise, according to a study by Intellecap , Indian social enterprises 80 per cent of those polled, structure themselves as for-profit private limited companies (PLCs). Examples of for profit social enterprises include Vaatsalya Healthcare, Ujjivan Microfinance and dLight. These social enterprises have usually cracked the market, and have a product or service that consumers have accepted, and are willing to pay money for.  Also, because of their for-profit structure, they have the ability to accepting funding from VCs and issue shares and go public.

Pros: Ability to attract funding from VCs, pay top dollar for good talent and invest in technology and infrastructure.

Cons: Sometimes focus on profits leads to mission drift that makes the original shareholders and stakeholders unhappy.

The hybrid model:

These type of social enterprises start off as a non-profit or for-profit and then launch an exact opposite twin. Some of the reasons are fairly straight-forward. As funds start to dry up for non-profits they are under pressure from their funders to focus on revenue generating activities. This leads to them launching a for-profit sister entity. Head Held High Foundation, for example is a non-profit that promotes rural entrepreneurship, under its fold are two for-profit organizations- Head Held High Services Pvt. Ltd and Magic Wand Empowerment. The Times of India wrote about the hybrid model in a November, 2013 article, highlighting companies like Fractal Foundation, Waste Wise Trust and Under The Mango Tree. When it comes to for-profit social enterprises, they launch a non-profit so that they can attract donations and grants, which can be used for activities like training, research or subsidizing a product or service.

Clearly this is a great model that ensures that social enterprises can both attract donations and grants, and still be able to have access to social venture funding.

Pros: This is the best of both worlds, allowing a social enterprise to separate the social and revenue generating activities.

Focusing on both types of entities could be a problem and so the issue of building a common culture.

Disclaimer: Our aim is provide you with a broad understanding of legal structures, please consult with legal and tax experts before making a decision.

This article is being published with permission from SocialStory

India needs ‘business as unusual’ to solve its massive development problems

Nobel Prize laureate, Amartya Sen, makes an interesting point in a recent New York Times article. While praising India for its economic progress, he chides it for the shortcomings in providing basic public services, and explains why India trails China. Sen believes that India catching up with China’s economic prowess, might remain a pipe-dream. He’s spot on.

After pursuing a mixed economy for most of its existence, India broke those shackles in 1991, and opened up its economy. Things improved. The country upped literacy, reduced poverty, fed more children under five, curtailed the infant mortality rate and India was tipped to become the world’s biggest economy by 2050.

Problems galore:
Even as our economic indicators went up, our social indicators have not shown the same improvement in key human development indices. According to 2010 World Bank estimates, India houses one third of the world’s poor, with more than 400 million living on less than $1.25 a day. That figure is up from 22 per cent in 1981. A shame considering, that its neighbor China, chopped its poverty rate from 43 percent in 1981 to 13 percent in 2010. Besides extreme poverty, India’s other litany of woes, include inadequate healthcare, illiteracy, malnutrition, high infant mortality rate, energy deficiencies and millions unemployed or underemployed. To address all of this, what’s needed perhaps is a business as unusual approach, which we shall get to later in this post.

India languishes at 136 out of 186 countries in the human development index (HDI) ranking. In 2012, India ranked 65th out of 79 countries, in the global hunger index (GHI), with 43.5 per cent of all children below 5 years remaining undernourished. Even as we fail our very young, the country, in the next few decades, is expecting to reap the dividends of its large young population. That is increasingly looking like a false hope. The young population is either uneducated, undereducated or lacks employable skills. The government has launched a massive scheme to skill 500 million individuals by 2022, this ambitious program might just prove to be, too little too late.

There is also a lack of jobs. The Planning Commission estimates that there will be an additional 183 million job seekers who will enter the market soon, and the manufacturing sector will need to provide 70 million of those jobs. Alarmingly, the opposite seems to be happening, after suffering jobless growth, even during the boom GDP years, there are predictions of jobless de-growth. Between 2005 and 2010 the country shockingly lost 5 million jobs in manufacturing and agriculture. Not addressing these problems could be a recipe for civil unrest.

Why hasn’t India been able to address these issues?

The government spends a lot of money to deal with these problems and the country boasts of the largest number of non-profits in the world, doing their bit to combat these issues. It also receives plenty of external assistance; the World Bank for example, approved $4.3 billion in aid in 2012.

But it isn’t enough.

Post economic liberalization in 1991, and the spectacular GDP growth of the 2000s, observers opined that the rising tide would magically lift all boats. The trickle-down economic theory that Indian policy makers preached have borne fruit that have mostly benefited the rich and the middle class with income inequality doubling in the past 20 years. The trickle-down theory states that with lower taxes and increased investment, the entire economy will grow, and benefit everybody, including those at the bottom. Not enough jobs have been created for the poor to take part in the growth story. Estimates suggest that there are 30 million unemployed currently. One reason could be that India has failed to transfer jobs from agriculture to the manufacturing sector while China has moved 150 million jobs in the last 10 years.

Besides manufacturing, agriculture, which has been shedding jobs consistently, but still accounts for 49 per cent all jobs, needs a reboot. The World Bank has a bunch of suggestions on how this can be done. They include investments to boost farm productivity, creation of improved livelihood projects, increased farm credit, better irrigation, agricultural insurance and improved market access for farmers.

Social enterprise- one of the possible solutions

India’s deep-seated and multi-faceted problems need more than the intervention of government, non-profits and international agencies. This is where social enterprises, with a dual promise of financial and social returns (sometimes includes environmental benefits) leveraging the power of market forces, could do some of the heavy-lifting in combating India’s crippling issues. Social enterprises provide innovative products and services at affordable price points, create livelihoods, and also engage the economically disadvantaged as producers and clients.

Note: Over the next few months we will be exploring life at the BoP, the enterprises serving these low-income populations, government’s role and the different approaches to solving these issues.

Photo courtesy: Nelson Vinod Moses.

This post was first published on www.chilasa.org


Why does the world needs more social Intrapreneurs?

Source: Ashoka
In the last decade, a new breed of entrepreneurs began to appear, armed only with ideas and a big heart; they attacked the world’s toughest development problems. Dubbed social entrepreneurs, they cropped everywhere. Brazil, India, South Korea, US, UK and even places like Pakistan have seen the rise of social entrepreneurs. They have done a stellar job so far, combating problems related to energy, livelihoods, health and sanitation, healthcare and poverty. The governments of the world have joined in, lending a helping hand by introducing new policies, regulations and innovative financial instruments like social bonds. However, global developmental problems cannot be eliminated by just social entrepreneurs and supportive governments, they are going to need the support of large corporations because of the sheer money power that they wield.

According to Forbes, the largest 2000 corporations in the world accounted for $36 trillion in revenues and $149 trillion in assets in 2012. Other than their corporate social responsibility activities, private enterprises have largely been missing from the social entrepreneurship revolution.

Until now.

Say hello to the social intrapreneur. They have the same motivations as social entrepreneurs- to affect social and environmental change- but they do it within organizations. A 2008 report on social intrapreneurs by Echoing Green described them as “someone who works inside major corporations or organizations to develop and promote practical solutions to social or environmental challenges where progress is currently stalled by market failures.” While they may not have been called social intrapreneurs, they have been around for a long time. However, their role in the past five or six years has been formalized. Their motivation is not monetary gain, but to execute a vision, and have social and environmental impact.

The world is beginning to take notice. A new competition last year, organized by Ashoka and Accenture called League of Social Intrapreneurs Competition, was floated in 2012 to support and recognize this growing movement tried to lure these employees out of their cubicles and into the open. “More and more people inside big companies are identifying with the label, and now there are companies who want to roll out internal strategy programs to cultivate it,” says Alexa Clay, Ashoka’s director of social intrapreneurship.

Social intrapreneurs leveraging the nearly infinite corporate resources at their disposal can affect massive impact. Eventually, due to sheer size, intrapreneurs can have a more marked impact than social entrepreneurs. In an article in Devex, Robert Tomasko, who directs American University’s Social Enterprise Program, echoes this fact. “Starting a new venture or being a solo entrepreneur is great, but when you go into an existing organization and change it from inside, you can have a much bigger impact,” said Tomasko.

Indian examples:
S. Sivakumar may not have known that he was displaying social intrapreneurial instincts when he approached Yogesh Chander Deveshwar, chairman, ITC  in 2000 for an investment of Rs 50 lakh to test an idea in his agri-business unit. Deveshwar gave Sivakumar 20 times as much and sanctioned Rs 10 crore to test the idea of directly procuring farm produce from soya farmers in Madhya Pradesh, thereby eliminating middle-men and helping farmers make a better profit. Deveshwar granted him Rs 10 crore. Today e-Choupal’ services today reach out to over 4 million farmers growing a range of crops – soyabean, coffee, wheat, rice, pulses, shrimp – in over 40,000 villages through 6500 internet kiosks across 10 states. Sivakumar’s idea solves the problem of non-existent supply chains and also reduces the role of intermediaries.

Considering that India has been a hotbed for social entrepreneurs, and the fact that private enterprises in India have a bigger corporate social responsibility (CSR) role because of India’s inequality, the role of the social intrapreneur becomes all the more important. Vijay Sharma was celebrated as one of the social intrapreneurs driving change within his organization in EchoingGreen’s 2008 report on social intrapreneurs. The initiative that he headed up then (he has since moved on and is currently at GSK) is Hindustan Unillever’s Project Shakti, which spawns women entrepreneurs in villages. Shakti started in 2000, with 17 women in two states. Currently it touches the lives of 45,000 women in 15 Indian states across 100,000 villages and impacts over 3 million households every month.

Intuit’s Fasal is a superb example of how the vision of a single woman created an entire business that currently reaches out to a million farmers. Created by Deepa Fasal in 2009, Fasal is a free SMS-based service for farmers that passes on precious agriculture-related information. According the Intuit, Fasal registered users make an additional Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 a year.

Sydney Lai, sustainability manager at Standard Chartered recalls how an Indian employee came up with idea outsource low-skill, data-related tasks to disadvantaged communities. “We’ve been able to provide job opportunities in rural villages and to people with disabilities who might otherwise have a hard time leaving their homes to find work. It creates benefits for us as a company,” Lai said. ‘e-Ops,’ as the initiative is known has been in place for a year-and-a-half and has resulted in cost-savings and efficiency improvements for the bank.

Gathering steam:
Globally the last decade is witnessing a strong momentum in social intrapreneurship. Vodafone’s M-Pesa program, now a much celebrated case study was the idea of two employees, The project is revolutionary in its attempt to solve the problem of a lack of financial services in Africa, at present it serves millions of Kenyans with financial services via mobile phone and acts as a model for other mobile phone-based development initiatives. Gates called on corporations to “dedicate a percentage of their top innovators’ time to issues that could help people left out of the global economy. This kind of contribution is even more powerful than giving cash or offering employees time off to volunteer.”

Accenture, which supports Ashoka in its competition to recognize social intrapreneurs has long been a big supporter of individuals inspired to drive positive change from the inside. Gib Bulloch, in the early part of the 2000s cobbled up a plan to bring the company’s high-quality consulting services to non-profits and development organizations. Dubbed Accenture Development Partnerships, it has helped more than 120 international development organizations and completed 700 projects.

There are many such examples. Graham Simpson, from GSK, had an idea of developing cheap, yet commercial, diagnostics kits that could be used by often untrained health workers in rural villages. These kits are currently being developed with the help of John Hopkins University.Sacha Carina van Ginhoven, from TNT Express is using mobile phone technology to solve the problem of having no addresses for the poor. Her project is being tested in a slum in India.

Going forward it could be social intrapreneurship could be a great tool for corporations to position themselves as being more responsible, retain quality talent, impress customers and please the rest of their stakeholders.

“If you don’t have an entrepreneurial culture, you won’t be able to recruit and retain talented individuals,” said Clay. Since most of the growth is currently in emerging markets like India, Brazil and Africa promoting social intrapreneurship could be good for the bottom-line as well. What started at the periphery, due the vision and drive of a few employees, could soon become front and center of corporate business strategy globally.

Note: This blog was first published on http://india.ashoka.org/