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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Solar lanterns for street vendors

NGO Post has an interesting story on a solar micro-enterprise in Hassan District in Karnataka. The business operates a battery charging station powered by solar photovoltaic panels and rents out solar powered CFL lamps street vendors. On an average, the vendor pays $0.25 per day for renting out the lamps and the business services 120 street vendors.

The business is supported by Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund (S3IDF), a pioneering organization supporting small enterprises in India. The technology support comes from SELCO India a leader in affordable solar solutions for the poor (our previous coverage of SELCO is here)

Read the complete story [via NGO Post]

Change-Agent Profile: Shedding Light on Poverty

Change-Agent: Harsh Hande; Company: Selco 

From Deutsche Welle (Germany’s international broadcaster): 

   57 percent of the population in India has no electric light, and many would be unable to afford regular electricity even if it were available. But Harish Hande is working to improve the situation. He set up a company called Selco in Bangalore, which now supplies some 80,000 people with solar power. He’s helped improve life for many in Karnataka and Kerala, making it possible for children to study for school by lamplight and allowing small independent businesses to keep working even after nightfall. His project has been very successful – and it’s environmentally-friendly, too.

Two lines from this video struck me especially:

“Harsh Hande established his company over a decade ago.  At the time, he was in his mid-twenties, and didn’t have much money himself. ‘If I could go back to that time, I would still say I should start with 30 dollars, primarily because when you have less amount of money, you try to innovate a lot, and innovate in terms of financial models…and because your back is to the wall, and basically survival is the issue…and survival brings innovations…’” 

This brings up an interesting point about the nature of social innovation.  Is it necessary to have a substantial seed fund in order to launch a social venture, or is it enough to be impassioned about a social issue, and be willing to find creative outlets to translate passion into reality?  From Harsh Hande’s perspective, the latter is the more difficult, yet potentially more productive route, as survival instincts breed innovation, and humble social entrepreneurs to see the world from the perspective of their communities. 

More after the jump.  Continue reading