Archives for category: Social Innovation

The Acara Challenge 2011 results are out! Four teams of student social entrepreneurs have been chosen to receive Acara scholarships of $5,000 and tuition for the Acara Summer Institute in India to advance their business: TextRA, Sewasan, Swach and Ankur Initiative.

Over the last semester, as part of the Acara Challenge 2011, 21 teams involving about 175 students from 12 participating universities in the U.S., India and Mexico worked to develop business ideas to tackle global challenges of food and water security. For this they received a lot of support from their professors, industry mentors and international university partners. Of these 21 teams, eight were chosen to present at the Acara Challenge Finals this Monday, May 16, 2011 at the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota.

At the Acara Challenge Finals, these eight teams pitched their business idea to a panel of judges composed of domain experts, investors, and business and nonprofit leaders. The judges then selected the teams to receive the Acara scholarships. While all eight teams have great ideas and potential to have a large impact, four teams were selected to receive a grant of $5,000 and tuition for the Acara Summer Institute, a business accelerator to be held in June-July 2011 in Bangalore, India.

Here is a summary of the four teams:


A partnership of the University of Minnesota and TERI, this team has developed TextRA, a network that will instantly deliver key information on food and water availability at various locations to the hands of malnourished and resource-deprived individuals, saving them precious time and energy.

Sewasan, another UMN-TERI team, is a community-directed cooperative that will create and maintain toilet facilities in urban slums and charge residents to use them, either on a pay-per-use basis or through a monthly subscription fee. The presence of these facilities will decrease the spread of food- and water-borne illnesses, increase quality of life, and provide employment opportunities for local residents.

Students at Cornell and the K.J. Somaiya Institute of Management in Mumbai created Swach to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the midday meal audit process in schools. Swach would provide testing kits and the communication infrastructure to test for food quality issues and report them to authorities, allowing time-strapped government auditors to focus where they are most needed.

The Ankur Initiative
The Ankur Initiative, a collaborative effort between students at Duke and the India Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, aims to combat water stress in parts of rural India by selling affordable polytunnels – lightweight plastic miniature greenhouses – to subsistence farmers in order to reduce water loss and increase crop yields.

We wish the teams success with their ventures. To read more about the program and all the student plans, check out Acara’s website.

Stay tuned for more about these teams’ progress at the Summer Institute and beyond!


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?