Archives for category: Non-profit

I have been struggling with this question for quite some time now. A few years down the line, I think I want to set up my own incubation fund. When I talk about it, people ask me – what kind of fund would this be – social or business? Given where I work, it seems to be a valid question initially. But I am not sure if I know the answer or whether I understand the question itself?

Let’s take a step back and ask – What is this thing called ‘social entrepreneurship’? Is it about helping the poor? But what does that mean? Is it about whether this support is free or comes with a cost? But doesn’t free support makes the beneficiary dependable? Is that a good thing? Is charity as a model sustainable?

Is social entrepreneurship about working in a non-profit? Does that mean that the people who want to earn the big bucks never stand a chance to do this? Or maybe they can earn a lot of money and fund large projects or recruit people to start several non-profits in their name and actually help millions? Doesn’t that sound better? Or maybe, it is about change – that I join a fledgling non-profit which does great work and turn things around, or I use my expertise and talent to help a non-profit deliver services efficiently and effectively.

Is social entrepreneurship about starting your own venture which focuses on the low-income segments as the primary beneficiaries? Should this ventures be a for-profit one? Or is that bad! But does that mean that Reliance and HLL are being run by social entrepreneurs? Don’t these companies have their largest customer segments in the low-income communities, both in urban and rural settings, or at least, that’s what’s gonna happen soon?

I am not sure what the answers to these questions are. But I have realized that the debate about right and wrong is by itself flawed.  At the end, it’s all being impact, no matter what road one takes. Whether one sets up an Aravind Eye Care, an Akansha Foundation, or an HUL? Some people even say that Infosys is the largest social enterprise in India. They have created livelihood for millions, made India stand high in the field of IT outsourcing, and changed world’s perception of our country itself. Isn’t that large scale socio-economic impact! Probably, that’s whats required. Maybe, all entrepreneurship is social. What do you think?

I attended the final evening of the recent Socent Bootcamp organized by Unltd India in Mumbai a few weeks ago. UnLtd India is a social incubator, providing one-on-one coaching, networking, and seed capital that people need to achieve huge impact. Their investees do incredible things, from teaching photography to the visually-challenged (Partho, BlindwithCamera) to using football to get drop-outs back in school (Ashok, OSCAR Football Club). Their aim is to find, fund and support India’s next generation of social entrepreneurs – individuals who have the ideas and entrepreneurial skills to create a better world.

This Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp was the first of it’s kind in India.  Unltd was able to bring together a batch of 36 potential investees for five intense days of idea refinement, skill development, and personal connection. The experience goes beyond creating plans and strategies – participants get access to multi-sector expert mentors while exploring their own roles within a community of peers.   Bootcamp is designed to accelerate the progress of these start-up changemakers so they can create maximum positive impact as quickly as possible.

The bootcamp was held in Bhayender surrounded by lush green hills in a suburb of Bombay. Day 1 was devoted to building personal connections.  Participants learned about each other’s initiatives through speed-dating-style one-on-one conversations. It’s important to note that, though they are all potential UnLtd India investees, this is not a competition for the participants. One of the day’s highlights was a talk with Shilpi Kapoor of BarrierBreak Technologies, India’s premier accessibility consulting firm.  Shilpi’s story of making technology accessible to the blind and visually impaired yields terrific insight. Day 2 witnessed workshops on the Theory of Change and social media hosted by the Unltd Team and a business/project planning workshop hosted by EdelGive Foundation.

One of the interesting Bootcamp participants was Ashish who is leveraging his business world expertise to create level playing fields in the informal sector.  Maid in India, his start-up, will be an online recruitment and engagement platform for domestic workers (like maids, cooks, drivers, and nannies) and potential employers.  Ashish also wants the site to link workers to training that improves the quality of their services – learning to cook healthy meals and getting certified as childcare providers, for example.  The plan is to charge employers a premium for the service; this will create insurance funds for the domestic workers they hire.

During Day 3, while potential Level 1 investees braved the sweltering sun in the name of teambuilding, the Level 2’s connected with expert mentors. These experts on legal structures, finance, marketing, and HR, including Pankaj Jain from Acumen Fund, Bharat Vasandani from Venus Capital and Aarti Madhusudan from Governance Counts,  offered one-on-one sessions to work through project-based issues and to develop customized plans. A workshop on social impact measurement was hosted jointly by Intellecap and Unltd India. The workshop was aimed at the investees to help them identify clear indicators for the impact they are trying to create and discuss various tools one can use to do that.

Ashoka Fellow Vishal Thalreja from Dream a Dream shared his story with the group.  Dream a Dream has reached the lives of over 3,000 children, with a core of about 150 who have turned their lives around completely. Ketan Desphande and Hemant Kabra, who lead Student’s Fuel, an organization that educates students in rural communities about entrance exams and admission processes to ensure fair access to higher education, celebrated a huge victory on Day 3.  The state government was considering a bill that would make it impossible for any student not born in Maharashtra to study there.  Thanks in large part to their advocacy, the bill has been overturned.

Day 4 was more like a wrap-up with Untld giving a session on “How to make a pitch” followed by the official closure and mock pitches being made by all Investees, both Level1 and Level2, which continued until Day 5 on Friday, March 26th. Unltd India invites applications for two levels – Level I is for people who are in early stage whereas Level II is for those who already have a proof of concept. Day 5 concluded the week long Camp in a networking event at the Hub.

If you have a social venture or idea which needs small funding (around Rs. 60k – 80k),  watch out for the next round of applications by Unltd India.