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[TC-I Changemakers]: Echoing Green’s Cheryl Dorsey

Editors’ note: The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with first-hand insights from groundbreaking changemakers. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.


Cheryl Dorsey is the President of Echoing Green, a leading global nonprofit which “invests in and supports outstanding emerging social entrepreneurs to launch new organizations that deliver bold, high-impact solutions.” Since its inception in 1987, Echoing Green has awarded more than $27 million in start-up capital to over 450 social entrepreneurs. Unlike typical venture capital firms, they are authentic collaborators in the process of effecting social change:

We consider ourselves active investors-not just providing funding, but also helping our social entrepreneurs achieve their maximum potential through a range of support services, including training, networking opportunities, consulting, and championing. Similarly, we view our fellows as investment partners, with whom we collaborate as they build and grow their organizations and with whom we hope to have a long-term relationship.

Cheryl became President of Echoing Green in May 2002, ten years after being awarded the Echoing Green fellowship herself for “Family Van,” a community-based mobile health unit for at-risk residents of inner-city Boston neighborhoods.

ThinkChange India’s Prerna Srivastava and Shital Shah spoke with Cheryl about Echoing Green’s path-breaking work, and solicited her insights regarding the future of the social entrepreneurship sector. Special thanks to Shalena Broadnax for her unflagging spirit during the process of arranging this interview.

We were struck by Cheryl’s groundedness and passion for this field. Overall, Cheryl emphasized the importance of being embedded in the local community, sticking by one’s core values, the “human capital” side of the equation, and the ability of anyone to get involved in social change even if they are not an entrepreneur.

The full interview follows below.

The following questions were discussed over the phone. The answers are not verbatim.

ThinkChange India (TCI): Can you start by briefly describing the work of Echoing Green, including its history since inception? How has the organization evolved since 1992?

Cheryl Dorsey (CD): Echoing Green was started in 1987 by the founding members of a private equity firm, General Atlantic, LLC. The idea was to bring meaningful venture capital principles from the private sector to philanthropy. They provided wraparound technical support services to give the organization the best chance of success and be on the cutting edge of social entrepreneurship for positive social change. The organization started as a private foundation with secure revenue from many sources, but has since evolved into becoming a public charity. Now, Echoing Green is a social venture fund. Continue reading

NYT Profiles Ela Bhatt and SEWA

The New York Times carried a Saturday profile of Ela Bhatt and the remarkable organization she founded thirty-five years ago, SEWA. Here is an excerpt:

Mrs. Bhatt’s Gandhian approach is most evident in the way she lives. Her two-bedroom bungalow is small and spare. The one bit of whimsy is a white swing that hangs from the ceiling in the center of the living room. She uses her bed as a desk chair. Her grandson has painted a child’s pastoral mural on the bedroom wall. She is known for having no indulgences.

Read the entire story here. TC-I’s previous coverage of SEWA can be found here

Please Nominate TC-I for The Indibloggies 2008

If you have enjoyed what TC-I has done since Feb ’08, please nominate us for The Indibloggies 2008 competition. Here is how:

1. Go to here.
2. Write In ThinkChange India for the Blog Title
3. Put for the URL
4. Select Best Group/Community IndiBlog

5. Repeat for IndiBlog of the Year (if you want).

Thank you for your support!

TC-I welcomes Shivam Srivastava as Part Time Writer

The ThinkChange India team is proud to introduce Shivam as one of our new part-time bloggers. A quick introduction of Shivam:

Shivam Srivastava is currently a WiMAX systems engineer at Motorola, Inc, where he designs and deploys wireless networks for rural parts of South and Central America. Shivam hopes to combine his passions of engineering and learning to achieve his long term goal of making the quality of education available in India independent from the student’s economic background. He is the co-founder of EPR India, an organization that aims to empower and educate Indian citizens about appropriate responses to emergency situations. Shivam is also actively involved in a start-up social venture to empower Indian women with IT skills and a number of other non-profit organizations. He has received a number of distinctions including being named a StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation Fellow and receiving the Clinton Stryker Distinguished Leadership Award. Shivam graduated in 2007 with a degree in Computer Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago where he was also an Ed Kaplan Enterpreurship Scholar, and plans to join a JD/MBA program in the near future.

Welcome to the team, Shivam!

Learning to Walk: TC-I Turns One Today!!!

Hello TC-I Community. It was exactly one year ago when the first post on ThinkChange India was published. Today, the four founding editors wanted to share with all of you what this experience has meant to us, and we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments section.

Here they are, in no particular order:


There is so much more to ThinkChange India than our posts. True, this is the bulk of what we, the editors, do, but the true spirit of what we (hope to) do resides in you, our readers. Over the course of the past year, you have inspired us to want to do more, to find avenues to catalyze community involvement and knowledge sharing, and effect meaningful change in India. You have incited provocative discussions on our comment boards, emailed us with your nascent dreams, and most importantly, given us an opportunity to serve your needs.

But this is only the beginning. We want to hear more of your voices. We want to build a thriving community of critical thinkers and doers. We want an informed readership that isn’t afraid to engage with each other, and ask difficult questions. We want to put the power to effect social change in your hands.

The next question, then, is where we go from here. The options, as my colleagues have mentioned, are vast, but the most important question of all is this – how willing are we to engage critically with each other and with India? This is the challenge we pose to you, the readers, as well as ourselves, as we forge ahead into a new, exciting year at TC-I. We are confident that we have both the capacity and the commitment to both meet and surpass this challenge, so long as we endeavour on this journey together, and continue to believe in the limitless potential of India.

With tenacity,


What happens when you put together four very different personalities, all passionate about the idea of social entrepreneurship? Strategy, brainstorms, reading, writing, discussion, and, most of all, a lot of excitement. The past year has been exhilarating, both for social entrepreneurship and for me personally. As a team, we’ve been striving to follow the pulse of the field in India and offer updates and resources for those who want to get involved. This field is full of amazing breakthroughs: from simple, but new, business models to creative technological inventions to unlikely local entrepreneurs revolutionizing the way we approach issues.

For me, a moment of affirmation for TCI’s efforts came only a few weeks ago. We received an email from a reader who said he had been thinking about an idea for a while, randomly came across our site, and, after following the content, was now ready to move into action. He went from “thinking” to “changing.” I would love to see this multiplied across our readership: let’s share ideas, collaborate, and use each other’s knowledge, skills, and networks to leverage impact.

There is still so much more we hope to do with ThinkChange India. We have yet to build a real online community. The readers who come to this site have amazing backgrounds and are driven by fresh ideas. We aren’t the experts; YOU are. What you’ll see in the coming year is a more accessible site, new forums and discussion boards, voices from the field, and (by popular demand) a job board. Those are just a few additions we have coming – so stay tuned as we continue to think change, in more ways than one.


I can’t really believe it’s been a year. It seems like yesterday that Vinay, Shital, Prerna and I were at the basement of ThinkCoffee listening to Anand Shah speak on Social Entrepreneurship in India. I remember this slightly over-enthusiastic dude coming up to me after the event and suggesting that we should start a blog on social entrepreneurship in India. That weekend I put together a basic blog – making the header design on PowerPoint (with the colors of the Indian flag, slightly misplaced that is). My initial expectation is that we would do 3-4 posts a week, in total. Within two weeks, this over-enthusiastic guy I hardly knew had churned out 30+ posts – all of them superbly well written and insightful.

Two weeks later, all four of us were sitting on a corner table at Think Coffee. Prerna was seriously angry. Shital was a little less angry (I have a hunch that she was getting a kick out of this whole thing). Me and Vinay were accused of stealing the name [ThinkChange] India (from Prerna and Shital). Of course, we safely avoided further conflict (I was honestly a little scared of Prerna ) by inviting both of them to write for the blog. I can confidently say if it weren’t for that little misunderstanding TC-I would not be what it is today. If Vinay was the spark behind TC-I, then Prerna and Shital are the fuel that keeps us burning (I know this is very cliché, but this proves beyond doubt that I’m the worst writer in the team).

One year on, TC-I is still around (670 posts, 700+ comments 140,000+ page-views – you can call that ‘still around’ right?). Over the past year, we have inspired hundreds of people to think about social entrepreneurship and hooked many of them with meaningful jobs. We were the media-sponsor for the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship held in Chennai in December, 2008. We were privileged to have two talented and wonderful writers – Aishwarya and Badhri join us in contributing for the blog.

I usually refer to us as the most-improbable team. To me, TC-I is the true story of people coming together and create(ing) something remarkable, driven simply by passion to create change in this world (and having a little fun in the process).


I will have to admit that I am cheating as I write this. Being the one who compiled our thoughts has given me the luxury of reading the other three before writing my own. The bad news is that all of the profound, insightful observations have already been made, but the good news, is that I get to fully appreciate the energy, raw passion and creativity that courses through all of our veins first.

When Santhosh, Prerna, Shital and I first started writing and thinking about social change in India, we had no clear idea of where we wanted to go, and admittedly now I do not believe we do still. However, that in itself has proven a wonderful experience, meandering through this forest of social entrepreneurship — free to write and express ourselves on whatever topics we each feel are relevant. Many ideas have populated our heads, and we hope that in writing for all of you the same has occurred in your own brains.

Like the others who have written above me, I want to state that this is only the beginning for us — us being all of us including the most important people, you the readers — and that we hope to have much more in store for you. We are nearing the launch of a new website soon that will only increase opportunities to build this vibrant socially minded community that is just yearning for a home online. We are constantly looking for new ways to expand what we offer the readers, whether through new writers, live blogging at events or providing other features over time.

So I encourage all of you to strap yourself in and enjoy Year 2, because I promise you that this time the ride will be even more exhilarating.

Much love,


India’s First Social Enterprise and Investment Forum: Sankalp 2009

Shital had written in last November about Sankalp 2009, a business plan competiton for Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) organized by India Development Gateway, in partnership with Rural Innovations Network (RIN) and National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Turns out the business plan competition has now developed into India’s first ever Social Enterprise and Investment Forum, with additional support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading

Photos from International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in India

International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in India Banner

International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in India Banner - photo credit A. Mishra

Bert Cherian of MetaWorks, the Master of Ceremonies for the event

Bert Cherian of Meta Results, the Master of Ceremonies for the event - photo credit Sonia Rai

Delegates at the conference [photo credit Sonia Rai]

Delegates at the conference - photo credit Sonia Rai

Nachiket Mor, President, ICICI Foundation [photo credit Sonia Rai]

Nachiket Mor, President, ICICI Foundation - photo credit Sonia Rai

More details about the conference, which took place Dec 4-5 in Chennai, are coming from Aishwarya. Stay tuned!

Partnership to nurture SME entrepreneurs

In what could be a significant boost to the Rural BPO industry in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Cisco Systems is partnering with the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and Tiruchirappalli Regional Engineering College – Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park (TREC-STEP) to nurture and support ICT entrepreneurs in the country [via Economic Times]:

In the three-way partnership, SIDBI will provide financial support, Cisco would aid in technology and the incubator TREC-STEP would help in mentoring. The partnership is targeted at the micro, small and medium enterprises segment. It has been rolled out on a pilot basis in India.

TREC-STEP is an award winning small-business incubator local in the south Indian city of Trichy. Since its establishment in 1986, it has excelled in promoting technology entrepreneurship in the region. Given the broadening focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), it would be worthwhile to consider setting up well-functioning business incubators in every district in India.

After the Bombay Attacks – Our Deepest Condolences

We, the ThinkChange India editors, extend our deepest condolences to those affected by the recent atrocities committed in Bombay, India. The most important questions – what actually happened, who was responsible / complicit, why the violence spiraled out of control, and what could have possibly pushed a group of youth to partake in such heinous acts of brutality – have gotten engulfed by the recent flurry of resignations, insinuations, and condemnations in higher levels of government.

We would like to turn your attention to what we believe is at the heart of this matter. These acts have struck at the very chord of what India represents – tolerance and unity – and it is imperative that we, the larger South Asian community, speak out against violence, and come together as one.

Let us see this as an opportunity to sow the seeds of peace and stability in a region otherwise wracked by conflict and communal tension. Let us come together to bridge the divides that bind our collective progress. Let us remember that the pasts and the futures of India and Pakistan are inextricably bound, and it is only through peace that we can prosper.

We urge our readers to come together in the spirit of unity and cohesion during this difficult time, and share their stories of compassion and love with the ThinkChange India community.

In Solidarity,

The ThinkChange India team

Inching towards ending polio

The Final Inch is a documentary funded by and produced by Vermilion Pictures, chronicling the final stages of the global fight to end polio. A large chunk of the movie was filmed in India, given that the country is the final frontier in the global effort to eradicate polio. There were 496 confirmed cases of polio in 2008 in India, accounting for 35 percent of all cases worldwide.

The documentary profiles the real heroes – the foot soldiers who are mobilized to deliver the doses of polio vaccine to young children.  India’s progress towards eradicating polio also highlights the relentless effort of the Indian government in undertaking the largest vaccination program in the world.

The Final Inch will be screened on HBO in 2009, and you can expect the DVDs to be out soon. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer:

Social Entrepreneurship at the TiE Summit 2008

Look out for the TiE Entrepreneurship Summit 2008 scheduled for December 16-18th to be held at Hotel Grand Ashok, Bangalore.

The theme of this year’s conference is Inclusive Entrepreneurship and features a keynote session on Social Entrepreneurship. Speakers at the keynote include Dr Carl Schramm and Rohini Nilekani. Looks like they also have an entire day dedicated to clean tech, where Harish Hande, the co-founder of SELCO India will be speaking.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Center for Innovative Financial Design

The Center for Innovative Financial Design (CIFD), housed inside IFMR, Chennai is dedicated to Designing financial products to bridge the gap between the financial needs and the financial access of the rural poor. The Center Centre creates and tests novel financial products that improve financial access for the poor and works in close partnership with the newly formed Harvard based research outfit, Ideas 42. CIFD is currently seeking a Project Manager, Credit Operations Manager and a Executive Director. All positions are based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

Cutting-edge initiatives in Punjab

The government of Punjab has been in the news this week, unveiling cutting-edge efforts to boost the local economy and build knowledge capital in the state

The government announced a partnership with Bharati Wal-Mart, a national retail chain to set-up skill training center for youth [via PR Newswire]:

The Punjab government has tied up with Bharti Wal-Mart Pvt Ltd to set up ‘Bharti Wal-Mart Skill Centre’ in Amritsar, a vocational training institute for the unemployed youth of the state.

‘This skill centre will provide training to the youth to hone their technical skills regarding modern retail and allied sectors like logistics, supply chain and other support services

Continue reading

Bridging the Wikipedia Divide: Wikipedia Academy

The logic is simple – only less than 0.1% of the Wikipedia readers contribute back, and my guess is that the percentage is even lower in India. The solution is Chennai Wikipedia Academy:

The Chennai Wikipedia Academy is NOT a brick and mortar entity. It’s a concept that embodies the spirit of sharing. It’s a simple initiative that anyone can start in their office, homes, community halls, schools or colleges. It’s simple. Arrange for a place where people who are knowledgeable about Wikipedia will help people who want to learn about Wikipedia.

We think the potential is immense in encouraging users in a country like India to engage more on Wikipedia. A quick look at the Wikipedia Contributor Stats shows that for the English language site, 52% of the contributors are from the US and majority of the contributors are from the English speaking countries Western world. 

The idea came out of a group session at BarCamp Chennai, a user-generated conference focused on technology start-ups. You can learn more about Barcamp here. And while you are it, also check out  Failcampa friendly unconference where people get-together to share and learn from failure