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Jyoti Singh was India’s daughter. But is that all? She was also India’s student, India’s citizen, India’s future… a young girl with a sharp mind, fierce will, working hard towards a better tomorrow. India has many such daughters, and not everyone’s gruesome story makes headline news. Jyoti, her parents, you who are reading this piece, and I – we are most likely exceptions to the rule, the minority. We hope for a safer, progressive and equal country. But while we champion India Shining – how do we shape a society that remains shrouded in gender inequality and a culture of patriarchy?

India claims that its well on its way to being a global super power by 2025, but does our everyday reality reflect this narrative? The real India is a country where 93 women are raped every day, 3.8 every hour; where 500,000 girls are lost every year to female foeticide; where 1 in 3 girls are sold in child marriage before the age of 15. A country where a young girl is raped and brutally killed by 6 men on a bus in our capital city. Where we think twice about wearing shorts and a tank top when we leave home. Where each of us can share several stories of being groped, harassed or molested by uncouth men in public places. The next super power? I don’t think so.

I’ve been a victim several times
, and I’m sure you have too – from having a filthy man feel me up in a dark room while getting my photograph clicked as an 11 year old, to being hit out at and groped by passing motorcyclists on the road while waiting to be picked up from my tennis lesson. The memory still makes me cringe, I feel ANGRY that I was emotionally and physically VIOLATED, and I let them get away. That’s why I feel the need to speak out. Not because of a filmy documentary, and not to tell people what they already know about the many violations against women in our country.

Some say that the horrific trauma that Jyoti and her family went through was worth it, and are enraged that the documentary telling her story was banned – seriously? Will 1 documentary, and 1 horrific story open our eyes and drive change? We have seen million such stories go by with silence. I disagree – it was NOT worth it. And India will NOT change because of the rape and death of one girl. I hear you SCREAM, and I feel the anguish. Believe me. I would have each and every rapist tortured and killed. But that won’t change the dangerous course our country is on, either.

Maybe then, we need to find Who is to blame…Blame it on the girls – why must they wear provocative clothes and roam the streets? Maybe its the fault of the parents – they should know better than letting their daughters go out after sunset. Blame it on the police or the corrupt Government for taking a feeble stance on women’s safety. Blame it on the monstrous men who believe it is their right to violate women.

The blame game begins, and we realize that while one finger is pointing at someone else, 4 are pointing inwards. The blame is ours to take. We, generations of men and women, parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts have shaped a society that creates India’s Sons – smart, ambitious, intelligent, lovable, protective, respectful, dutiful. And the sociopaths, perverts, monsters, villains. Men are not born rapists – not anywhere in the world, and definitely not in India. So many Indian men have grown up hearing that sons are more valuable than daughters, watching their fathers beat their mothers, seeing the girls in the family go hungry while the men eat… until they BEHAVE in similar ways, because its NORMAL. And so many of India’s Daughters experience and propagate this inferiority their whole life, that they start ACCEPTING it as normal. It seems like India’s Children are to blame.

The path to a more equal society is long and complicated. After giving it much thought, I believe that the way forward for India is Change by Generations. The most effective method of changing the way an organization thinks and performs, is to infuse it with a new generation of people who are molded with the right attitude and skills to shape the future. Replace the old with the new, and keep going until the new becomes normal. I’ve seen it work before. While India is way more complicated than an organization; its younger generation has the numbers, vision and attitude to make this possible. Men and women, together, shape a new generation of Indians who believe in equality, freedom and respect. Poverty alleviation, globalization, vocational training, education and employment are all part of this movement; but so is a mother treating her son and daughter as equal; so is the documentary, India’s Daughter; so is a manager who promotes a woman over a man based purely on merit; so is Javed Akhtar screaming in the Rajya Sabha; so is a wife when she reports her husband for physical abuse; and so is this article.

India’s Children, shaping a future in which our sons and daughters enjoy mutual respect, freedom and equality. 

Part II with more thoughts on executing Change by Generation coming soon. 

Naresh Fernandes, addressing participants at Intellecap’s “The Future of the Urban Poor: A Searchlight Convening” supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Good evening and welcome to Bombay. This is a city in which I’ve lived for much of my life and there are few places in which I feel more at home than right here, in Bandra. My family’s roots in this neighbourhood go back at least two hundred years. At the other end of this stretch of seafront is St Andrew’s Church, where five generations of my family are buried. My grandfather used to farm a small plot of land not so far from here, and, over the past century, my family has witnessed the city springing up around it. Recently, I’ve been working on a book I’m tentatively calling Hill Road Stories, named after Bandra’s longest street, in which I’m trying to describe how Bandra came to be absorbed by the big city.

This spot in which we’re meeting (Taj Lands End hotel, Band Stand) holds warm memories for me. When I was a child, this was an overgrown hill with the remnants of an old Portuguese fort. During our school holidays, we’d ride our bicycles up here and play act at fighting pirates amidst the ruins. Bandra was in the possession of the Jesuits from the early 1600s, and the tax revenues they gained from my ancestors allowed them to entertain their guests quite lavishly. In 1675, a young British doctor named John Fryer stopped in to visit the Jesuits. He writes that they showed him “great civility”, offering him fine fruit and wine, “diverting us with instrumental and vocal music”. Later in the day, they even staged a mock naval battle for him in the bay out front. So it’s evident that we in Bombay have a long tradition of showing our guests a good time.

About 15 years ago, after a long court battle, this hotel was allowed to come up over the remnants of the fort and only a small section of the battlements remain now. If you walk down to the water’s edge, you’ll see an old stone plaque bearing the date 1640. But you won’t actually be able to walk all the way out onto the parapet. It’s been blocked off for security reasons. Evidently, if you try to take a deep breath of the sea air at that spot, you could pose a grave threat to the structural stability of the Bandra-Worli Sealink, which links Bandra to the mainland.

This hotel offers a fabulous vantage point from which to observe Bombay’s metamorphosis in the new millennium: it’s built atop a 17th-century fort and looks out on the bridge that many people believe symbolises Bombay’s potential to take on the world in the 21st century.

Like so much else in this city, though, that bridge, to me is a sign of how much we in India have been getting wrong, ever since we began our policy of structural adjustment in the early 1990s. The bridge cost six times more than expected and took more than ten years to complete – that’s five years longer than they expected. When you drive off at the Worli side, there’s a large sign that says South Bombay – but weirdly, the direction it indicates is actually north. To get to South Bombay off this bridge, you actually have to drive about 300 metres north and then take a U turn before you’re set in the right direction.

But it’s more than the awkward engineering and the delays that made this a bad use of money. Of the 14 million people who live in the city, 6.9 million people take the train. Only 37,500 vehicles actually use this bridge every workday. The sealink was planned as a public-private partnership and was supposed to demonstrate how Bombay’s residents would actually be willing to pay for infrastructure they used. Think again. When they bridge opened, they actually had to reduce the toll, because it was so poorly used.

There’s another delusion involved. Many of Bombay’s newly affluent people that users of public transport are subsidised. When you do the maths, it turns out that isn’t quite true. While the average passenger on the sealink pays Rs 25.25 per journey, the average first-class ticket holder on the railways pays Rs 54. It turns out that we’re actually subsidising the inefficient car-users. Despite the shaky assumptions of this project, the state government is still proceeding with its plan to extend the sealink all the way down to the very tip of the city.

While we’re still up here on the hill, let’s also turn our eyes east, to the neighbourhood of Dharavi, where you’ll be headed over the next few days. While some Bombayites have adopted the Sealink as a symbol of everything they believe is right with the city, I must confess that I’m quite astonished by how many others seem to believe that Dharavi is a shining example of the city’s potential. That’s a process that’s greatly accelerated with the success of the film Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, when Barack Obama visited Bombay a few months ago, he made it a point to praise the people living in the “winding alleys of Dharavi” for their optimism and determination.

New urban studies jargon now refers to Dharavi as “an informal city” that has been created by the boundless enterprise of its residents. Almost every news report about Dharavi informs readers that its residents produce several hundred million dollars worth of goods each year – some estimates suggest a figure of $500 million or $600 million. As a corollary, this school of opinion believes that informal settlements like Dharavi and the hundreds of others around Bombay should be left undisturbed, so that they can continue to keep displaying boundless enterprise and keep being productive citizens. There’s also an ecological edge to this argument. Dharavi’s residents are praised for how efficiently they use scarce space and resources. Academics who celebrate Dharavi say that the world can’t really afford to live any other way.

Don’t get me wrong. I entirely support the right of poor to live and work in the city. In fact, I believe that we must do a great deal more to ensure that they get a fair deal in Bombay. But to me, this fetishisation of Dharavi makes a virtue out of very dire necessity. Besides, it’s tinged wth a condescending, neo-liberal lining. As I see it, this rhetoric implies that Dharavi residents should be allowed to live there mainly because they’re contributing to our great economic machine – not just because they, as citizens, have the same rights to the city as we do.

When you visit Dharavi, ask its residents about the struggle they face getting water in the morning, about how many people are packed together with them in their homes, about the rats that nibble at their toes each night and then reconsider the alleged magic of Dharavi. Dharavi is now more than 80 years old and to me, it’s a symbol of the failure of our society that we’ve allowed it to continue to exist in this squalid form all these decades later.

Between the Sealink and Dharavi, then, lies the whole range of Bombay clichés. We’re a city in which India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, recently built the most expensive home in the world: it cost about a billion dollars and it’s home to a family of four. We’re also a city in which about 60 per cent of the population lives in slums. In the Indian imagination, Bombay is the place where anyone with the will to work hard will never starve. But it’s also the place where children in some slum pockets face acute malnutrition, which means that they’re actually starving to death slowly. It’s the city in which everyone has the space to dream of becoming rich, but in which actual space is at a terrible premium, given that about 20,000 of us are packed into each square kilometre. (By contrast, London has a density of about 4,600 people a square kilometre.)

With typical Bombay swagger, we’ve come to celebrate all these distortions and we’re pretty smug about our ability to survive the daily grind in the place Suketu Mehta called the Maximum City. But all of this worries me a great deal. It’s apparent that Bombay has always been the barometer for the rest of India. If Bombay sneezes today, you know India will get a cold tomorrow, they say.

Over the past century, some of the most powerful ideas to influence India were born in Bombay. The very idea of India was born here when the Indian National Congress held its first meeting here in 1885, the first Indian trade union movement was born here in 1890. Since the 1930s, Bollywood has been pumping celluloid dreams into the heartland, suggesting that any adversity can be overcome if you work hard enough — and dance around a tree in the appropriate fashion.

Since liberalisation, though, the Bombay dream has changed. Where the movies once celebrated the communitarian space of the Marine Drive promenade, our film makers now showcase gated communities and malls. The self-help institutions that we once prized are being replaced by lotteries that promise to make you rich overnight.  If this is the way Bombay and India are heading, I believe that the future is a little more uncertain that it’s projected to be.

It’s clear that the jarring contrasts you see everywhere in Bombay are a concrete manifestation of this neo-liberal economic model we’re flogging so desperately. If there’s one lesson Bombay teaches us, it’s that the future of cities can’t be left to the whims of market forces. It seems apparent that, despite the caution in the Western academy against the problems of what’s described as overplanning, there’s no alternative to strong regulation to ensure the public good.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but for now, things in Bombay are going pretty badly. Almost every day over the past few months has brought news of yet another real-estate scandal, in which developers have colluded with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to make extortionate profits from public resources. Though some citizens groups are trying to resist, the odds against them seem overwhelming.

And yet, of course, life goes on. Every few days, when yet another scandal has broken, I take a walk by the promenade here to catch my breath and take stock of things. Most often, the rocks on the shore are filled with courting couples. Since space is so tight in this city, couples, even married couples, are forced to grab moments of privacy in full public view. They shelter behind colourful umbrellas to talk and grab a kiss and remind us that, no matter how bleak the world seems to be, there’s no reason for normal life to grind to a halt.

In fact, they often get so absorbed in each other that the tide sometimes rises around them and the fire brigade has to be called in to rescue them. This happens so often that, a few months ago, the authorities mounted bells across the coast and they’re sounded when the water begins to rise. To me, that’s come to represent the madness of Bombay. The water’s swelling fast and bells are clanging but we can’t hear them because we’re all too busy having a bit of fun. I wonder how it’s all going to end.

– Naresh Fernandes

Editor, Time Out Magazine

Editor’s Note: This article is written by Dipika Prasad and was published on the Sankalp Forum blog as well as Next Billion. It captures the work I have been doing for the last two years.

Early stage businesses thrive best in an environment that brings together and facilitates efficient working of all players for them to grow. The favorite, and oft-quoted example of such an enabling ecosystem is Silicon Valley. But there are examples closer to the developing world as well – like the information technology industry in the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Bangalore, and the vibrant start up communities growing around academic institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). Social enterprise in India took off in 2005-06, but is still in the margins, and grapples with a complex set of challenges. The challenges start right from understanding who’s part of this space – the entrepreneurs, funders, enablers – to making it easier for them to work together. If double and triple bottom line businesses, which many of us believe are tomorrow’s models, are to make a dent in mainstream markets, they need to aggregate in big numbers, and show tangible change. Which leads to the question – why stitch together the social enterprise mosaic?

Sankalp Forum was initiated by Intellecap in partnership with Rockefeller Foundation, SIDBI, NABARD, and others, with the belief that social entrepreneurs have a role to play in development and inclusive growth. In those early years our founding team learned the first lessons in the importance of building an ecosystem. The entrepreneurs, funders, policy makers, academicians, service providers and grassroots organizations that were chasing common goals had to be brought together; and an environment that it made it easier for them to work together had to be built.

Three big goals drive us in our attempts to create this convergence of key players in the social enterprise space. The first is cohesion and collaboration to drive capital into double and triple bottomline businesses. The second is to make peer-to-peer learning and market linkages possible. We believe this is key to creating supply chains that work – bringing together large businesses, social enterprises, and non-profit grassroot level organizations. Our third driver is to bring new converts to this growing space – large businesses curious about making markets work for the poor, foundations that are looking beyond charity as a means to create impact, mainstream angel networks and venture capital funds who want to explore impact investing as a growing asset class.

The next obvious question then becomes – what does it take to stitch together the social enterprise mosaic in India? In 2009 we took the first steps towards building this ecosystem for entrepreneurship lead development solutions through the first annual Sankalp Summit and Awards. While we’ve evolved and expanded both programmatically and geographically, the social entrepreneur continues to be at the centre of everything we try to do through the Sankalp Forum. In the last four years, we’ve sourced over 400 social enterprises from India and South East Asia into the Sankalp platform, using our awards process as a pull for enterprises working in sectors of agriculture, food and rural business; clean energy/ technology; education and vocational training; healthcare, water and sanitation; and technology for development. This aggregation of high potential social enterprises has in turn attracted other players from the sector – over 300 investors, and 500 service providers like strategy consultants, investment advisors, lawyers, and design and media consultants. For a social enterprise looking to understand the market space, Sankalp Forum has evolved to become a one-stop-solution that answers four basic needs:

A lesson we learned early on in our journey was that very little was possible without collaboration. We’ve worked with over 50 partners including incubators, investment houses, networks, media, and other social enterprise platforms to make Sankalp Forum possible. A good example of the efficacy of this collaboration is the capacity building services we are able to provide all this under one umbrella. Our partners range from early stage incubators with sector specific focus to those with expertise in legal issues to those who investment bank for early stage businesses. Entrepreneurs who are part of our platform get access to mentorship and handholding across an entire range of challenges. In the past three years, more than two dozen of our enterprises have received investments, and over 160 others have been made investment ready through mentoring and capacity building programs. These enterprises enter the Sankalp Forum platform through multiple channels. While we run year-round interventions like capital raising workshops, and investor – entrepreneur clinics across India, the annual Sankalp Awards is the largest entry channel to Sankalp Forum.

In 2012, 100 for-profit social entrepreneurs from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia invested over 600 hours in filling applications to the Sankalp Awards. Cumulatively and individually, this data forms an invaluable decision making aid to multilaterals, foundations, policy makers and other market makers in this space. Each application was put through a quality check by the Intellecap team, and entrepreneurs were helped with thinking through aspects of their business they hadn’t necessarily prioritized. As we helped applicants figure EBIDTA, PAT and margins, we realized many of them were doing this exercise for the first time. Not all went onto become Sankalp Award Finalists of course, but we believe we got them started on the right track.

At the first evaluation stage of the business plans, 35 investors from 29 investment houses volunteered one day of their time to look over every business that applied to the Sankalp Awards. The evaluation process itself resulted in the generation of over two dozen investor interest queries. At the end of this process, 31 finalists were announced. The news of this announcement through Intellecap and Sankalp emails, blogs and social media channels alone reached an audience of over 50,000. We partnered with leading publications in this space like NextBillion, YourStory, Startup Central and others to amplify this number by 4 to 5 times.

The great value add to Sankalp Award Finalists, and also the inspiration behind this post, came from a first of its kind bootcamp that we organized for our 31 finalists at the Indian School of Business on March 9 and 10. Over the course of a two-day residential bootcamp, the entrepreneurs were exposed to capital raising basics like “knowing your business”, “approaching an investor”, and “structuring investments”. Over 18 investors, successful entrepreneurs, and advisors travelled to Hyderabad to volunteer time for this bootcamp. What’s great about this model we’re building is that its win-win – experts from different fields spend time with our entrepreneurs to find high quality deal flow pipelines, understand on-field trends better, and create awareness about their work. After the bootcamp, Vijay Vaidyanathan, CEO of one of our 2012 finalists class wrote to us saying, “Sankalp Forum is not only bringing together all the pieces of the social enterprise ecosystem, it forms the mosaic and gives the background in which the entire picture would shine.”

At our annual summit on April 12 and 13, this is exactly what we will attempt to do.

There are clear differences between the approach of previous generations towards sustainable development and that of today’s youth. The old model of people making money and waiting till the end of their lives to give it away is not acceptable to the new generation. Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy as concepts are less appealing to today’s youth, while profitable business models that inherently address social challenges are gaining popularity.

Although the growing role of youth leadership in sustainable development is a global phenomenon, young Indians still have some way to go. The highly competitive environment, educational system, and social pressure to build a successful (i.e rich) life, are some of the reasons that we see fewer young people engaging in sustainable development in India when compared to the more developed countries. The situation is similar in other emerging markets such as the BRIC countries and South East Asia.

While there are young people in India that choose to pursue a career in social enterprise, the space is primarily dominated by Non-Resident Indians and people from the more developed regions. This trend is clearly reflected in educational programs – while most Business schools in Europe and the North America include social enterprise/sustainable development in their curriculum, this trend hasn’t caught on in India. The Indian School of Business is pioneering certain initiatives in the social enterprise space such as iDiya; however the IIMs and other management institutes are still to follow.

Another point to consider while comparing perspectives on sustainable development across generations is that the field of strategic sustainable development requires a multi-disciplinary approach, since the challenges being addressed are intricately linked together. So while the past generations focused on specializing in particular areas and excelling in those, today’s generation has the opportunity to draw linkages across disciplines and find integrated solutions to challenges, for example in the context of climate change.

Access to information through the internet, the social media revolution, global exposure through technology and travel based learning allow our generation to engage in the complex issues of sustainable development. Today young people are more sensitized to development challenges and risks, and they have the opportunity to collaborate through social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter.

A small percentage of Indian’s today are able to take greater career risk, instead of following the traditional path. However, when compared to the number of young people in India, this number is still very small. To create this change, we need to focus our efforts on youth attitude and perspective. Education, extra-curricular activities, travel and other diverse experiences shape the world-view of young people. We need to provide experiences that develop responsible young leaders who work towards a sustainable future and in the process create a meaningful and successful life for themselves and their communities.

One such program is the AIESEC Ser Mas Program run in Latin America that offers businesses and young people the opportunity to be more competitive, increasing their knowledge and expertise in the areas of social and business entrepreneurship. Through international exchange programs, team and leadership experiences, and learning activities, the program develops talented and globally minded Ibero-American leaders whose knowledge and skills enable them to support and build social enterprises in the region.

As one of the fastest growing free-market democracies in the world, India’s growth rate of 8.2% is likely to continue. With this growth, the gap between energy demand and supply is also widening. While the liberalization and privatization of the 1990s has transformed the Indian economy, its lack of focus on rural electrification is posing to be a huge challenge to India’s development process today. Various studies have shown that access to electricity has direct human and economic benefits. Not only is it a basic human need for quality of life, but it also fuels productivity and employment generation activities in rural areas. Today, more than 40% of the Indian population has little or no access to commercial electricity to carry out their daily routines. Globally, of the 1.4 billion people who do not have access to electricity, 612 million or 42% live in South Asia. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh constitute more than 90% of those lacking access to electricity. It is apparent from the Government’s efforts that the provision of secure, sustainable and affordable energy is a critical economic and human development challenge for the country. The role of renewable energy in India is no longer that of ‘alternate’ energy, but has become a mainstream solution, driven not just by the Government but by local enterprise as well.

In this context, off-grid energy solutions have taken on a larger role in addressing the energy challenge. Rural and remote areas in India are not connected to the national grid. These communities take to manufacturing their own power using a range of local generators including fossil fuels and renewable technologies such as wind, hydro, solar PV. Off-grid electricity often serves a dual purpose of providing affordable renewable power solutions to disconnected areas, as well as generating employment for the local community. In the past, market incentives for profit-seeking companies in rural electrification profits were extremely limited. Dispersed customers, higher cost of supply, geographical remoteness, low consumption and low ability to pay are some of the other barriers that have restricted the entry of private players in this space. However, led by a generation of young entrepreneurs, India is pioneering off-grid energy solutions today. These success stories pave the way for rural development and environment preservation. The uniqueness of these solutions is not just the innovative technology, but also the distribution, ownership and revenue models on which they are based. These stories are freeing energy from the grid, and lighting up the lives of millions of rural poor in India and in other parts of the developing world.

Husk Power Systems has changed the lives of 150,000 people in rural India, impacting 25,000 households and reaching out to 250 villages by installing 60 mini power plants that use discarded rice husks to generate electricity. Further, they have trained and employed more than 300 people to run and manage these power plants. By 2014, Husk Power Systems plans to impact 6,500 villages, save 750,000 tons of CO2, create 7000 local jobs and save over $50MN in cash for over 5MN people by replacing kerosene and diesel with its renewable energy technology. HPS is creating a paradigm shift in social enterprise where it pays the community in cash twice the amount it receives from them. To support HPS in achieving its ambitious targets, Acumen invested $125000 and IFC invested $375000 in them over the past year. [Husk Power Systems is a 2010 Sankalp Alum]

Promethean Power Solution’s prototype of a chilling center is helping farmers in rural India to boost supply by reducing spoilage. The technology is a solar- powered refrigeration system for cold-storage in areas that do not have access to the energy grid. Having won numerous awards, the founders of Promethean started off in a village in Goa and are now looking to expand their services across India. They received $10,000 funding initially, followed by a $1 MN investment. [Promethean Power Solutions is a 2011 Sankalp Alum]

Onergy provides complete renewable energy solutions to BoP customers in rural India by focusing on quality products and servicing and innovative distribution and pricing. Onergy’s main focus is on off-grid solutions through LED lighting, cooking and electrification with the aim of impacting 1 million lives by 2016. Project Zero Kerosene replaces kerosene lighting with off-grid solar LED lamps, Solar home lighting and Solar home electrification. Project Smokeless Village replaces traditional wood-cooking with efficient, affordable and renewable ways of cooking. Finally, the Project Decentralized Generation sets up Biomass Gasifiers of 10 – 100 KWe catering to local energy demands. Onergy is currently looking for investment to scale up operations. [Onergy is a 2011 Sankalp Alum]

D.Light Design is a story founded in inspiration derived from extreme hardship. The experience of using a kerosene lamp for light, inspired the founder to look for an alternative solution. D.Light provides a solar powered LED lantern that’s safe, affordable and bright. Today D.Light has 3 products priced between INR 500 to INR 1600, and sells its products in 30 countries including India. Education on renewable technology and last-mile delivery are the key challenges the company faces. Their long-term ambition is to impact the lives of 100 MN people by 2020. D.light has raised an investment of $5.5 MN from Omidyar. [D.light is a 2010 Sankalp applicant]

Selco enhances the quality of life of underserved households through the provision of sustainable energy solutions. Selco’s success has proved that poor people can afford and maintain sustainable energy technologies and that profitable social enterprise is a viable business model. Since 1995, Selco has serviced and financed 115,000 solar systems increasing human productivity, creating pivotal financial schemes for the poor to access solar technology, generating awareness about solar power, and improving the quality of life of millions. Selco not only customizes its technology to suit customer requirements, but provides high-quality service, as well as secures access to finance for customers. In 2011, the founder of Selco won the Ramon Magsaysay award.

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.

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