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I come from a family of well-educated engineers, doctors and civil officers. I grew up in a sheltered environment, learning about the significance of a credible education, of stability, and of planning as far ahead as possible. Most of my extended family relocated to study in the U.S, and have built comfortable lives there. If I was writing this a decade ago, I might have had a similar story to share.

But I have grown up in the “new” India, and in this land of expanding opportunity, I chose the road less traveled.

In my 26 years I have traveled the world, started a not-for-profit, spent a month in the Antarctic and have chosen a career that attempts at “good” business. Turning down several opportunities to continue working abroad, I chose to return to India. The emergence of a pulsating, dynamic new India has triggered a reverse brain drain. Indians living in different corners of the world, who had gone looking for opportunity, chose to return to a vibrant, exciting land of promise. So did I. I came back to an India ‘whose faith in success was far greater that her fear of failure’. An India that was poised as the fastest growing free-market democracy in the world. Globalization with all its challenges and opportunities had created a country of paradox, success, failure and hope. The development of a young, new India in the face of a globalized world economy has greatly influenced my thinking and life choices.

India opened its doors to the global economy, transforming the lives and aspirations of its people. This evolution came to life with A.R Rehman winning two Grammy Awards, Kalpana Chawla being the first Indian-born woman to fly in space, and Slumdog Millionaire winning an Oscar. The world was looking at India with curiosity, and inter-cultural connections multiplied exponentially. Consequently, my dream of traveling the world became a reality. I worked with an international team in Rotterdam that led a global organization to achieve 45% growth in results. Our mantra was ‘Connecting to Deliver’, and we leveraged technology that supported people across the world to learn, share and achieve. I developed programs that mobilized youth to experience new economies and cultures. Recognizing these successes, I was awarded a scholarship to participate in a sustainability leadership program in the Antarctic. This would have been unheard of for a young woman in the India that was. The world had literally become my playground, and these experiences completely changed the way I viewed my country, my future and myself.

Today, India is riding high on its so-called “demographic dividend”. While India’s youth hold significant promise, the lack of education, inadequate infrastructure and skewed employment prospects present a daunting task. Young India needs empowerment, training and access to livelihood opportunities. Being a young Indian, my work has focused on youth mobilization for social impact. Recognizing the need for ethical and sustainable leadership, my work in AIESEC was directed towards exponentially increasing the quantity of leadership experiences the organization provided young people in India and globally. While leading the Global Entrepreneurs Program, my team trained aspiring Indian entrepreneurs and gave them a platform to develop business skills by interning with growing enterprises. Today my work leverages India’s demographic dividend through social enterprise. The enterprises I support are transforming the lives of unemployed youth through door-step business training, providing technology-based interactive education to disadvantaged communities, and generating employment in rural India through BPOs.

India’s entrepreneurial spirit is being harnessed in whole new ways. The world is attempting to learn from Indian innovation or ‘jugaad’ in Hindi, as a tool to find uncommon solutions to common problems. Earlier this year, a business acquaintance from Accra experienced Dharavi, Asia’s largest ‘five-star’ slum as part of a global initiative on Urban Poverty that I managed. He reflects that ‘Dharavi’s future is different from the slums in Ghana because Dharavi has the ability to grow organically through the entrepreneurial spirit that is being nurtured there.’ This observation isn’t limited to Dharavi, but is the energy that drives India. The deep-rooted ambition, innovation and risk-taking ability of my people set them apart. As an actor in India’s entrepreneurial story, the traits that define the country, define me. I’m an innovator; I practice the art of lateral thinking, of resilient creativity and of improvisation in the face of adversity. I enjoy trial-and-error and making things work with limited resources. I’m excited by opportunities with an element of risk, which I believe is critical to unraveling the complex challenges of today’s world. India’s tryst with ‘jugaad’, as one part of its entrepreneurial success, has deeply influenced my development in recent years.

My connection to India’s complex growth story is best described in these lines – ‘There are 2 India’s in this country. One India is straining at the leash eager to spring forth and live up to all the adjectives that the world has been showering upon us. The other India is the leash. One India says give me a chance and I’ll prove myself. The other India says prove yourself first and maybe then you will have a chance….’ The two India’s are slowly drifting apart – one rich, the other poor; one living in luxury while the other struggles to sustain itself. The future of our country depends on closing this gap. My work in social enterprise aims to increase conversions from one India to the other side. I co-create sustainable solutions with grass-root innovators to transform the less advantaged to assertive customers, thus contributing to build a more sustainable growth curve for the country. I support enterprises that provide low-cost sanitary napkins to rural women, deploy easy-to-use water wheels in villages, and empower rickshaw pullers to be owners. Choosing social enterprise has been a natural career path. With all its challenges, I draw immense satisfaction and learning from my work. The India phenomenon and my choice to return to it, has been a profound influence on my thinking, learning and actions.

From Beyond Profit

A few decades ago when Joe Madiath started Gram Vikas, he was labeled a “social activist,” a type of rebel. Today, he and other entrepreneurs have become lynchpins in the social enterprise sector. In the ’80s, social entrepreneurship was a concept in the making; now it’s at a pivotal point. Many entrepreneurs presented their visions of the sector’s future at the Villgro Unconvention 2010.

Social enterprise in its current avatar presents a business opportunity—a lucrative chance to marry commerce and change. Two decades ago when Shrashtant Patara, Vice-President at Development Alternatives Group, was looking for an opportunity to apply his technical skills in a business that has positive social impact, Development Alternatives seemed to be the only option available. Today, there are thousands of such opportunities in the market. The response that Yashveer Singh has received to the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum, or the growing number of applications that the Tata Jagriti Yatra receives only go to prove that.

Although the buzz is around market-based commercially viable solutions for change, Ashish Karamchandani, Partner at Monitor Group, believes that we are still in the relatively early stages. We have only a handful of successful models, such as microfinance. Further, it took microfinance 30 years to scale. Creating new scalable models is not easy, but it is what the social enterprise sector needs. Another question to ask is whether markets are the solution for everything? There are millions of Indians in the interiors of the country who are still in the pre-market stage—bartering for goods and services without currency involved. Investing in these millions and preparing them for the market stage, will be key in the success of scalable and sustainable social enterprises.

One of the important elements that has evolved in the space has been that of talent attraction. Yesterday, a fistful of individuals with passion in their hearts entered the space cautiously; today it is fashionable to work for a social enterprise. According to Bindu Ananth, IFMR Trust, the diversity of young talent that the sector is attracting is a fantastic sign. At the same time, as a sector we need to recognize the importance of bringing in professionals with the experience of building businesses, focusing and scaling.

Experts’ take: the future of social entrepreneurship

The future is about shifting from fail safe models to safe fail models—to be successful, we need to throw up as many balls in the air as possible.
—Shrashtant Patara, Vice-President, Development Alternatives Group

Taking on harder problems battled by more people will separate the high quality enterprises that scale from the mediocre ones.
—Bindu Ananth, President, IFMR Trust

The sector will see some sort of consolidation, as more enterprises compete for limited resources. Mergers and acquisitions and stress on transparency and better managerial practices will be upcoming trends.
—Yashveer Singh, National Social Entrepreneurship Network

There aren’t real failures in social enterprise, there are temporary setbacks. We need to build a support system for entrepreneurs who initially face hurdles, which will give them staying power and the ability to follow through.
—Joe Madiath, Founder & ED, Gram Vikas

Recent allegations against Indian microfinance institutions (MFIs) by the media and the State have thrown sector stakeholders into a crisis. Accusations against MFIs include coercive practices, lack of transparency, and “usurious” interest rates. These accusations have resulted in the passage of an Ordinance by the State Government of Andhra Pradesh (AP). Intellecap, an India-based social business advisory firm and publisher of Microfinance Insights, has released a White Paper in response to the crisis. Thought-provoking and informative, the White Paper analyzes the buildup to the crisis in AP, attempts to revisit some fundamentals of the business, and questions the effectiveness of radical approaches to multiple bottom-line business by the State and the media. We welcome your comments.

Download Intellecap’s White Paper here.

(Credit: Microfinance Insights)

Srijan

“The media does not understand the sector,” and “the media tends to sensationalize news,” are two of the most frequently heard comments when you ask Microfinance leaders what they think of the media coverage the sector receives. The reports about the state of microfinance and its practitioners in India have been unflattering, to say the least. ‘Carpet bombing’, ‘palming profits off the poor’ and ‘killing interest rates’ are the more common accusations flung at leading microfinance institutions.

On its part, the media believes that it is doing its job by bringing to light facts about the sector while institutions bristle at the apparent negativity, and believe that the media is reporting on an industry that it does not yet fully understand. However, the sector freely admits that reforms are badly needed and the media are in fact working to gain a better understanding of nascent industries such as microfinace.

Recognizing this disconnect, Intellecap, a thought leader in the sector, and host of the Srijan Financial Inclusion Forum 2010, aims to bring together the media and microfinance leaders in a candid face-to-face discussion. The aim is to narrow the gap in understanding and communication that currently exists between the two sides and find middle ground by thrashing out the differences. The aim is to enable the two sides to work together in building a better future for microfinance in the next decade – one that is transparent, client-centric and scalable.

Srijan is a two day action based Financial Inclusion Forum for top decision makers to define the 2020 roadmap for Indian Microfinance for the next decade, and assess innovative technology interventions to catalyze greater financial inclusion. Scheduled for October 7-8, 2010 at the Taj Lands End in Mumbai, Srijan aims to create a platform that sets the stage for an Advocacy Action Agenda for greater financial inclusion in India.

Intellecap is a pioneer in providing innovative business solutions that help scale profitable and sustainable enterprises dedicated to social and environmental change. The company’s unique positioning at the intersection of social and commercial business sectors, allows it to attract and nurture intellectual capital that combines business training of the commercial world with passion and commitment of the social world to create distinctive solutions that include best practices and principles of both cultures. Intellecap operates in multiple capacities in the social-commercial space: facilitating investments, providing strategic consulting and business advisory services, supporting operational planning and implementation, and developing information-sharing and industry-enhancing platforms that promote and build SUSTAINABLE, PROFITABLE and SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE enterprises.

For more information please visit http://www.intellecap.com

Seth Godin, marketing guru, entrepreneur, author and change agent is in our neck of the woods this week. Word on the street is that he’s in India to make a film on marketing to low-income communities. On Wednesday, Godin spoke to a captivated audience at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad about the transformation of marketing and the art of leading a tribe to create change.

A decade ago, the image of an Indian farmer standing in the middle of a chaotic village market holding a shiny mobile phone was unimaginable; today, this is reality. These shifts and juxtapositions in our world are demanding a change in our role as doers and entrepreneurs and the nature of marketing. The marketing model of branding a cute mascot to death, interrupting people to push average products, and “spam-a-lot” is dying. It’s fast being replaced by marketers who give communities value, something to believe in, respect, and the dignity of choice. This transformation is the start of a second Industrial revolution.

“Tribal” leadership lies at the center of this revolution. Connecting a community or tribe of like-minded people and working with them to create change—like Jacqeline Novogratz has done with Acumen Fund or Anant Kumar has done at Life Spring Hospitals—is the new marketing. Trust, value and choice are the foundation of this movement.

Do you need to be a genius to invent a tribe or to find a tribe and lead it? Not really; not a genius like Einstein anyway! In fact, it all comes down to “Art.” Art is about doing work that matters, the act of creating human activity that changes people for the better. The factory model of interchangeable parts and replaceable people is being swapped for a focus on design, service and people. The opportunity is huge – the laptop is now the means of production and the internet has brought down the wall between products and the market. Replacing the fear of failure with curiosity and the courage to take on “emotional labor” (potentially tough challenges) are the two skills an agent of change needs today.

It is this tribal leadership and transformation of marketing, which will catalyze the movement of market inclusion at the base of the pyramid (BoP) in countries such as India. The end of poverty through market integration will come by supporting choice, not charity, and embracing dignity, not dependence.

Beyond Profit had the chance to sit down with Godin and find out more about his thoughts about marketing at the base of the pyramid (BoP):

Beyond Profit: What has the world overlooked when marketing to communities at the base of the pyramid, considering not a lot of multi-national companies (MNCs) have succeeded up until now?
Godin: So far we have treated people at the BoP the same as regular customers. It is only now that we are beginning to understand the different mindset and buying approach of customers at the BoP. The distinction between a need and a want is very clear to them. They will not just buy a product because it is INR5 (US$.09), they need to be extremely sure of the value it brings to their lifestyle. More than anything, they need to be given a choice to decide what product to buy.

Beyond Profit: Do you see conflicts with marketing products to the BoP that they don’t need or shouldn’t be spending their money on?
Godin: It is easy for marketers to trick people into buying a product, especially at the BoP where customers have maybe a year of buying experience whereas an urban middle income customer who has a lifetime of buying experience. In this age, marketers who give communities value, something to believe in, respect and the dignity of choice are the ones who will build successful organizations.

Beyond Profit: How is the role of technology evolving when marketing to the BoP?
Godin: The important factor is how technology is being used. The farmer with a mobile phone is a good example – he uses the mobile phone purely to connect for business and make a living, not to spend endless hours chatting with friends. Customers at the BoP will use technology to grow and attain success as long as it is affordable and available to them.

By Deepti Chadda for Beyond Profit

Today I realized that I miss being a geek 🙂 For some reason this made me Reflect on why I found my previous job so exciting and Predict why I could come to find my current job quite exciting too.

It was one of those mornings. I woke up with a slight headache and not enough sleep. If only I could crawl back under the covers for 5 minutes, or maybe 150! Trying to convince myself that a cold shower is always the perfect remedy for this sort of stuff, I struggled out of bed. Gulping down my breakfast (of spicy poha and pulpy orange, in case your interested) I took a shot at trying to bargain my way to a spot in the November 2041 Antartica Expedition. Finally stepping out of home, I realized that I had forgotten my lunch, rushed back to get it, and of course arrived at the office 20 minutes late. And sleepy.

I had almost made up my mind that it was going to be a torturous day. The kind when you slouch at your desk with half closed eyes imagining a cozy bed and blanket. But it was not to be! Google Analytics, Excel and the geek in me saved the day. Playing with data is the most fun thing in the world. Setting a goal, figuring out what kind of data to look at, crunching numbers on Excel and analyzing trends – Rise and shine! This was one of the things I loved about my job on AIESEC International and luckily for me, it seems like I’ll have to do some of it in my new role as well.

Reflections – what made my year on AIESEC International fantastic?
1. The people – Working with young bright people from across different countries taught me something new everyday, about people, the world, and my work.
2. Traveling – Every few weeks I got the chance to set out on a new adventure, discovering people, cultures and places around the world.
3. Independence and interdependence – My targets on the team were such that to achieve them I had to strike a fine balance between individual delivery and team work.
4. Achievement – My team saw opportunity for growth, defined the path and then facilitated and watched the organization achieve.
5. My role – I loved my role which included process enhancement, coaching, product development, communication and marketing, statistical analysis and trends forecasting.

Predictions – what could make my time at Cactus Communications fantastic?
1. A new world – I like the feel of entering a whole new market after 6 years of working with AIESEC. Everything is new and interesting, I learn so much everyday.
2. Opportunity for growth – Cactus is a medium sized fast growing organization. The market I’m handling is largely unexplored and has potential for tremendous growth. I can feel the momentum building up to something powerful.
3. The challenge – Limited time to create a niche for Editage in the European and American markets with high targets. The challenge of figuring my way in a new place while ensuring I’m contributing and even achieving pushes me to think and work hard.
4. The people – Cactus is founded by an AIESEC alumnus, employs AIESEC alumni and internationals from across Asia Pacific. I enjoy the multicultural work environment this creates.
5. Mumbai – I work in Mumbai which is my favorite city in the whole world! After spending a year abroad, I’m so excited to be able to rediscover the Maximum City.

    Nandan Nilekani is the author of “Imagining India,” a radical re-thinking of one of the world’s great economies. The co-founder of Infosys, he helped move India into the age of IT.

    Nandan Nilekani co-founded Infosys, one of India’s leading information technology companies, back in 1981. After serving as its president and then CEO, he’s now joined the Indian government to help lead a massive new IT project: providing every Indian with a unique identity card. to concentrate on his next great endeavor: re-imagining India in the new millennium.

    His book Imagining India asks big questions: How can India — which made such leaps in the past two decades — maintain its demographic advantage? How can democracy and education be promoted? How, in the midst of such growth, can the environment be protected for the next generations?

    “Seattle has Bill. Bangalore has Nandan. What makes Nilekani unique? For me it comes down to one phrase: great explainer.”

    Thomas Friedman

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