Tag Archives: social entrepreneurship

Lack of quality social enterprises is the issue and not supply of capital: Omidayar Network’s Jayant Sinha

According to Omidyar Network’s (ON) India head, Jayant Sinha for India’s fledgling social entrepreneurship industry, the problem is not the availability of capital, but the dearth of quality social enterprises (socents) to be invested in. “Capital is available in plenty, what we need is high-quality enterprises to invest in where the founders have the right credentials,” said Sinha at the sidelines of a press conference in Bangalore to announce a new investment in Kolkata-based iMerit Technology Services, an IT enabled services company that trains and hires youth from small towns and cities.

ON founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s is a venture philanthropic fund, that has invested about $113 million (roughly Rs 612 crore), in 35 companies in India, since its inception in 2010. “At the rate we are investing we should invest another $100-200 million in the next 3-5 years,” added Sinha.

ON, which has a sector-based approach to impact investing, mainly invests in social enterprises (socents) or non-profits. In India, 45 per cent of its investments have been into non-profits, while the remainder has been pumped into socents. The sectors that ON invests are consumer internet and mobile, entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, government transparency and traditional philanthropy.

Non-profit investees include Bangalore-based Akshara Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on elementary education, which received a $950,000 grant last year and Anudip Foundation, which focuses on creating livelihoods for disadvantaged youth. ON’s socent portfolio include energy platform company Agni Energy, classifieds firm Quikr, and Vistaar Technologies, which promotes financial inclusion.

Things are hotting up in the social enterprise (socent) investment space in India. Other venture funds with a focus on socents include Khosla Labs, Gray Matters Capital, Aavishkaar, Acumen Fund and Oasis Fund. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that there is close a billion dollars to be invested in socents. The Indian government has plans to invest another $1 billion.

Why India needs social entrepreneurship to succeed.

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India is at the crossroads. After a decade of high GDP growth rates of around 7-9 per cent, the 2008 global recession poured cold water on the Indian growth story, in 2012-13, growth is expected to be a tepid 5 per cent. The growth post-liberalization, benefited the rich, (the increase in number of Indian millionaires was second only to China), and a newly created middle class. What of the rest? Most of India or 400 odd million people live on less than $1 a day. In the latest 2012 human development index (HDI) report, India languishes at 136, out of 187 countries .

The players who can affect positive change- the government and NGOs are trying, with varying degrees of success, but their interventions fall woefully short of what is needed to combat India’s pressing problems. Capitalism’s fruit was supposed to drop down to all, but the much touted trickle-down economics, hasn’t delivered. Income inequality has doubled in the last 20 years. Einstein said famously, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” perhaps what is needed now is a business as unusual approach. This is where social enterprises (socents) can play a role. They use market-proven business practices to solve social and environmental problems. In the world of socents, business and philanthropy collide, and strive to create a more equitable and sustainable world. They may not be the silver bullet for all of India’s gargantuan problems related to agriculture, poverty, infrastructure, healthcare and education, but they may perhaps be our best bet.

With a business as unusual approach, socents are turning rice husk into electric power (Husk Power Systems), employing the power of the sun to bring light (Selco), bringing healthcare to rural areas (Vaatsalya Healthcare), introducing solar-powered ATMs to villages (Vortex Engineering), providing emergency ambulance services (Ziqitza Health Care), teaching English (EnglishHelper) and giving access to affordable potable drinking water. Socents are identifying markets and problems that have been ignored and solving them using innovative products and services. Most of the global case studies on successful socents are peppered with Indian examples.

Social entrepreneurship could also help India avoid the mistake China made with its growth. The Red Dragon’s phenomenal economic growth has come at the cost of air, water and soil pollution. Anger over pollution has replaced land disputes to become the chief cause for social unrest in China. Socents with their inherent vision of sustainable growth that is environmentally friendly are well equipped to balance growth with environmental concerns.

While India had made giant strides in the last decade in the area of social entrepreneurship, this is just the beginning and more is needed. Government needs to step up to the plate and make it easier for both foreign and domestic investors to invest in socents. A better regulatory framework, smoother taxation policies, creation of multiple investment bodies, using innovative investment vehicles like UK’s social impact bonds, co-investing in technology based socents, creation of a separate index like Singapore’s Impact Investment Index (IIX), are just some of things it needs to do.

One of the most interesting developments in the past few months has been the CSR bill proposed by the government where 2 per cent of profits for big companies will be used for social programmes that includes investment in social business ventures. This could be a huge boost for socents, and give them access to more than a billion dollars in precious capital, that is needed especially at the seed and early stages. Husk Power Systems, for example, benefited from the grant that it got from Shell Foundation in its early days of technology creation.

Growth in the next 100 years cannot follow the road that capitalism took us in the last century, the earth’s finite resources are already depleted, and the environment already reeling from over-exploitation. There’s already talk of social capitalism and creative capitalism in the US and Europe. India need not be far behind, and design its own version of capitalism, one that uses social entrepreneurship in abundance.

And so, it begins.

The beginning.

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Courtesy: http://www.freefoto.com

India is often referred to as a laboratory for social entrepreneurship, where innovation is brewing, and new products and services are being dished out thick and fast. Things are looking up after the doom and gloom post the 2007-08 recession and the micro-finance controversy that rocked the industry in 2010.

There are a lot of social enterprise focused VCs that are chasing deals at present. The trend in social investing started in the mid-2000s with VCs like Acumen Fund and Aavishkaar Venture Fund, and more have followed suit like Omidyar Network, Khosla Labs and India Social Fund (ISF). Now, there maybe close to a billion dollars chasing SE investment. These social VCs have been buoyed by SEs that are growing in scale and revenues, and even providing successful exits. Aavishkaar, which was started in 2001, has had a few exits, these include Rangsutra, an artisan-owned handicrafts company, Servals Automation, a rural energy solutions provider and Shree Kamdhenu Electronics, an electronic milk collection services company. According to the Intellecap SE study, most of the investments are bunched up around agriculture, education, healthcare and energy.

The industry requires talent; and that is being supplied by institutions, like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), some of the IIMs, ISB and many other B-schools. The government too has recognized the huge potential SEs have in tackling age-old problems related to education, healthcare, agriculture, energy, water and sanitation. In January, 2013, Sam Pitroda, chairman for the National Innovation Council, announced a $1 billion fund to invest in enterprises that tackle problems at bottom of the pyramid.

But more is needed: attracting top talent, encouraging the growth of impact investing as an investment vehicle, an exchange purely for SEs to raise capital like Singapore’s IIX and less regulation and more incentives from the government.

From its first baby steps, the SE industry is ready for its next jump into adolescence and adulthood.

Billionbulbs will track this journey.