Intl. Conf. on Social Entrepreneurship in India – Day 1

I had the opportunity to attend the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in India on the 4th and 5th of December. In this post I will try to narrate my experience at the conference. In the posts following this one, I will talk about people and organizations I got in touch with, and most importantly discuss some issues that came up for discussion during the conference.

photo credit Sonia Rai

photo credit Sonia Rai

The theme of the event – Inspiring|Connecting|Sharing – set the right expectations for the attendees and, to be sure, lived up to it. The event was organized by UnLtd India and Center for Social Initiative and Management(CSIM).

The conference was spread over two days and events were well planned to facilitate formal as well informal discussions and networking. It was eye-opening and engaging in many ways. Participants from almost all parts of India, and with interests ranging from micro-lending to rural tourism, attended.

Day 1

Proceedings were kicked off by Bert Cherian of Meta Results setting the tone with his humour and energy. The ball was set rolling by an interaction with Nachiket Mor of ICICI Foundation, facilitated by Neera Nundy of Dasra. Nachiket talked about his personal experiences that shaped up the path to his current position as President at ICICI Foundation. He narrated how people in rural areas are not exactly used to the apathy and standard of living prevalent in urban areas. He also talked about evolution of ICICI Foundation. Answering to a question, Nachiket questioned the value of experience as the only source of answers to problems. In his opinion, many a times a fresh look at things from a total outsider can give us out-of-box solutions. On a related note he said that the ability to pay or finance an initiative is not always a plus point. Many an innovative idea has come out in crunch times.

Nachiket Mor photo credit Sonia Rai

Nachiket Mor photo credit Sonia Rai

Nachiket was of the view that the term “Social Entrepreneurship” should not have been a groundbreaking term or concept at all. Enterprises should be socially conscious and socially motivated by default. Talking about scaling up organizations, he cited example of Starbucks which had to operate in centers which were poles apart in their culture.

As you have seen, Nachiket gave us some really interesting perspectives of social entrepreneurship.

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Water Profits

WaterHealth International, a private company and Acumen Fund investee, was covered in last week’s online BusinessWeek, which also includes a video featuring the founder, Tralance Addy (tipped from Acumen Fund’s blog).  The company aims to “provide sustainable access to clean, safe water to all, including the poorest communities. ” Their work in India includes over 200 WaterHealth Centres, mostly in Andhra Pradesh, and they are expanding to meet the demand from this pressing problem.

The BusinessWeek article notes why this venture is interesting:

WaterHealth typifies one of the latest trends in social entrepreneurship. A new generation of leaders believes it can do more for poor people if they operate as profit-making businesses rather than donor-backed organizations. WaterHealth has designed both a proprietary purification process and a simple facility for housing the equipment. It sells the systems to villages, helps secure financing, and runs the plants. After eight years, when the villages pay off their loans, the money they make from sales of water goes straight to their coffers—available for village improvements.

The article quickly touches on a debate about WaterHealth’s business model, as opposed to Byrraju Foundation’s model.  WaterHealth requires its communities to invest in the system through loans, whereas Byrraju provides subsidies and the water plant is a shared investment. The debate highlights the staple question of sustainability – what is the best approach to ensure long-term feasibility? More specifically, is there a finance scheme that works better than others in achieving the intended goal?

A dash of (A)cumen: The recipe behind Acumen Fund’s investment strategy

Yesterday, Acumen Fund‘s Chief Investment Officer Brian Trelstad came to NYU to conduct a live case study on a real company that Acumen Fund invested in, in an effort to educate MBA and other students on the investing strategy and process of this innovative social venture fund. I actually wrote about Acumen’s approach sometime back.

The company under scope was Ziqitza Healthcare Limited (better known at Dial 1298), a for-profit ambulance service located currently in Mumbai aiming to provide ambulance assistance for all in 15 minutes. Using a willingness to pay revenue model, the company subsidies services for the poorest through fees generated from providing care to those that can afford to pay.

Before I jump into the heart of the case study, here is a video that we were shown at the outset of the lunch. In addition to providing ambulance services, the company is now also figuring out innovative ways to power their vehicles with renewables. You can read the rest of the review after the jump.

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A New Breakthrough in Tracking Social Entrepreneurs

I’ve always valued metrics but remain wary of the extent to which numbers can be used to reveal the whole picture. Hearing about the new Portfolio Data Management System (PDMS) – an online database tracking social entrepreneurs – is proof that there is progress in the effort to measure social impact. A variety of organizations came together for this massive effort: Acumen Fund, Salesforce.com Foundation, Skoll Foundation, Lodestar Foundation, along with programmers from Google. How does the PDMS work? BusinessWeek explains:

A common set of metrics will be recorded for each organization so donors and investors can check regularly and track their progress or spot trouble. Social entrepreneurs will be able to benchmark their results against those for similar organizations around the world.

The system will allow foundations and other donors see what the return on their investment is, and compare it against other similar organizations to see if real progress is occurring. I can imagine that not only will the information be useful to investors, though, but also to other stakeholders – partner organizations, beneficiaries, almost anyone involved the same field who wants to stay informed of the value of programs and money.

Since social enterprises are relatively new entities, standards and benchmarks are not common or shared. A specific metric that one enterprise decides to use may differ with the next. The PDMS offers a solution to the current haphazard situation… Continue reading

Job Opportunities with Acumen Fund in India

Source: Nextbillion.net

There are two openings in India, one for a Business Development Manager and the other for a Portfolio Associate.  Both are accepting applications and hope to close the application period early next week (August 20).  View both job descriptions in PDF format, and consider applying.

Learn more about the Acumen Fund here.

Dhristee’s Rural BPO Pilot in Bihar

We have highlighted here at TC-I the potential for rural BPOs to create jobs.  One of the more interesting players is Dhristee, the company whose primary business is franchising rural information kiosks.  Recently the company ventured into the rural BPO space, setting up pilot unit in the rural hinterland of Bihar.

CNN-IBN recently ran a story (video is below) on the pilot initiative [Via Acumen Fund]. Here is a tiny quote from the narrative:

But this isn’t about do-gooder NGOs giving villagers money and equipment – or about social organisations thrusting empowerment into the hands of people not ready for it. It’s about people in backward India who want to be a part of the e-revolution that’s painting India with the big WWW.

Interesting, I guess words like ‘market-based solutions’ are still out of sight for the mainstream media (restricted to development junkies like us!). But the story brings out the economic potential of rural BPO – for instance, the employees in Dhristee’s pilot initiative earn about Rs. 4000 a month.

TC-I Week in Review

Here are the top 3 posts over the last seven days.

  1. Santhosh’s discussion of cricket teams hiring the Washington Redskins cheerleaders find and train homegrown versions garnered substantial attention.
  2. In second place, another post from Santhosh. This time he highlights the creation of the country’s first social investment management company.
  3. In third place, an older op-ed written by Prerna on the Parle-G Biscuits also was widely read.

Highlighted Jobs, Internships and Opportunities

  1. We posted on a new opening at Unitus for a senior associate.
  2. Acumen Fund is looking for a legal associate.
  3. Also, the deadline for the Atlas Corps fellowship is fast approaching.

Reaching into the Archives

Prerna sometime back took a critical look on migration and its effects on society. Check it out again here.

Remote Blogging: Skoll World Forum 2008 — Points of Interest from Opening Plenary

  • Phil Hope, the Minister of the Third Sector in the UK spoke about the creating of a social stock exchange and its ability to promote transparency in the global social entrepreneurship field.
  • Karen Tse, of International Bridges to Justice spoke about the cross cultural challenges associated with being a social entrepreneur across borders, but also stressed that certain values should be promoted universally.
  • Lord Anthony Giddens spoke about the world’s continued inaction on climate change and tried to come up with reasons and solutions for the lack of proactive measures taken by the global community.

Sources: Acumen FundSocialedge

Op-Ed: Microfinance revisited and its role in reaching the missing middle

Two weeks ago I wrote about James Surowiecki’s article in the New Yorker that brought forward the inherent limitations of microfinance to actually generate a substantial number of jobs in a developing country. Since then it seems as if I was not the only one (surprise surprise) to take notice of Surowieki’s conclusions and it has even brought pioneers like Acumen Fund‘s CEO

Novogratz gave some credit to Surowiecki’s argument that not everyone in society is an entrepreneur and that in fact most people simply want a predictable, stable job with defined roles. Novogratz, however, distinguished her stance through her anectdotal experience with women’s access to credit and how throughout her experience they have overwhelmingly been favorable towards it. She says that this desire for credit provides the rest of us with critical lessons on how to address poverty.

However, the desire for credit on its own in no way makes someone an entrepreneur. Every teenager in America has an affinity for credit, but just because they are willing to spend that money somewhere does not make them some sort of innovator. Likewise, Surowieki’s argument highlights that for the most part microloans are not utilized for business expansion, but rather they help tide businesses over during rougher times, a la a bridge financing round. These funds like simple credit cards are used to cover funds that someone has already spent before — not towards future capital investments. It is that ability to reinvest ones funds towards scalability and expansion that is truly entrepreneurial.

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Acumen and Hindustan Latex to provide country with micro-hospitals

In a joint venture, Acumen Fund and Hindustan Latex will begin the development of hospitals with 25-30 bed capacities throughout India to help address the dearth of low income maternal and child healthcare services.

To be labeled LifeSpring Hospitals, the venture will build upon the success of the phase I hospitals established since 2005 that have yet to experience a single mortality. According to VC Circle, he new funding will help the organization scale up to 140 similar centers by 2012.

Acumen’s initial $2 million equity investment in the new company, a 50/50 equity partnership between Acumen and HLL, will support LifeSpring’s plan to open five hospitals in 2008 and thirty across India by the end of 2010. LifeSpring charges between 30-50 per cent of the prevailing market rates. With 80 per cent of all health care expenditures in India out-of-pocket, LifeSpring aims to significantly lessen the burden of rising health costs to low-income communities.

While numerically the effects of such a venture may not seem substantial in relation to the need, if successful it will demonstrate a scalable and viable funding model for future services.

Some more BACO-bits of investing knowledge from Acumen

Previously, ThinkChange India posted on the Acumen Fund’s investing strategy. In that post, we pointed out how a major factor in the Fund’s decision-making process is the BACO, or best alternative charitable option.

Due to a comment posted in response to this article,

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Acumen’s Investing Acumen

The Acumen Fund’s blog posted an article going through how this fund is trying to establish criteria for the valuation of social ventures. The article highlights many of the difficulties that the fund faces when trying to create an entirely new investing model yet still remain sustainable financially.

Venture investing, as our investment committee (comprising several members of our board) likes to remind us, is more art than science. Social venture investing takes that art to a whole new level.

Acumen’s starting point appears to be traditional enough as they start at the bottom and build up.

Our analysis always starts at the unit level: what is the product or service? Who are the customers? What are the costs to serve? How do you make money? How do you beat the competition? Any good analysis is clear on the assumptions at the unit level and builds up from there.

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