Interview: The Future of Social Entrepreneurship in India

Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Asia, Entrepreneurship

The following interview was conducted via email between National Social Entrepreneurship Forum (NSEF) founder Yashveer Singh and SocialEarth co-founder Tristan Pollock.

SocialEarth: What is National Social Entrepreneurship Forum (NSEF) doing right now?

Singh: National Social Entrepreneurship Forum is influencing the student culture in India both in practice and academia by inspiring, training and supporting students for social innovation & entrepreneurship and in the process, emerged as India’s premier youth platform for social innovations with pan-India chapters facilitating the growth of leaders of change. It was founded in 2009 with an aim to inspire the next generation of leaders, bridge the talent inequity in the social sector and foster ecosystems where social change catalysts are created and supported. Since its inception, NSEF has undertaken social entrepreneurial activities in 30 academic institutes, helped some of disruptive social enterprises to address their biggest challenges by connecting them to talent equipped with the right skills and mindsets to jump-start their growth and has created a multiplier effect by supporting a number of young social innovators and entrepreneurs.

SocialEarth: How are you empowering students to get involved with social entrepreneurship?

Singh: It is ironic that while India houses possible the highest number of social entrepreneurs in the world, social innovation and entrepreneurship itself forms a deplorable mention in the course curriculum in most academic institutions in our country. Curriculum aside, very few colleges in India have societies dedicated to promoting social entrepreneurship and development through enterprise on campus and creating a class of socially responsible citizens. National Social Entrepreneurship Forum (NSEF) aims to bridge this gap through a number of initiatives including setting up centers of excellence at top institutes across the country; providing mentorship, conducting a unique social entrepreneurship internship by connecting students to work with social enterprises and organizing conferences & competitions across the country.

SocialEarth: What universities are you currently working with?

Singh: Unlike academic institutions in the developed nations, social innovation and entrepreneurship is not institutionalized in India and the system of education lacks its. As social entrepreneurship is a subject requires multidisciplinary approach, we have undertaken activities in different kind of some of the top institutions in India ranging from Management, Technology, Science, Arts, etc. For example: IIMs, IITs, TISS, DU, etc.

Today, there is a substantial increase in buildup of interest groups, ecosystem enthusiasts, talks, courses, et al. built around social entrepreneurship. But NSEF had spotted the trend early and helped build communities around social entrepreneurship for young Indians to come together and seek help to become social change agents.

SocialEarth: What challenges are you faced with when addressing social entrepreneurship in India?

Singh: Currently in India, significant changes are occurring in the field of social enterprise, including major developments in the flow of funding, entry of new social investment models and impact measurement tools. All of these phenomena are occurring against a larger backdrop of demographic and market change as boundaries blur among the traditional nonprofit, for-profit, and public-sector silos.

Being a diverse country in terms of life style of people, needs etc. we face a big challenge of scaling up the social ventures as any product/service requires customization according to local area, as a result many innovative models are restricted to particular parts of the country.

Also, I guess just creating product and services appealing to the poor doesn’t mean that they are social business, in fact, they are pure commercial businesses. In my opinion there is more to a social business then the profit motive and if so how does one actually protect those. So, the key challenge would be, this double edged sword of social enterprise shouldn’t overwhelm the social mission.

SocialEarth: Have any of your students gone on to establish successful social enterprises?

Singh: Yes, our fellows have gone to establish their own social enterprises, for instance, one of our fellow Kumar Ankit has established an organization, Green Energy Private Limited which works in Bihar, one of the least developed state of India for the development of wastelands of farmers by planting Pongamia (Biodiesel yielding crop) which led to alleviation of poverty, rural employment generation, providing alternate and sustainable source of income to farmers, improved quality of life, arrest migration and maintain ecological balance, impacting lives of thousands of farmers. Similarly, one of our other fellows Sandeep Mehto, started Bharat Calling, which reduced college dropout rate of students across 60 villages and helped them link to higher educational institutes empowering thousands of underprivileged students.

SocialEarth: What’s in store for NSEF?

Singh: This year we have launched one of its kind fellowship which would support students who start their own social enterprises after college by providing them network, training and other support. So, over the coming year our focus is on strengthening the fellowship which intends to help many young social entrepreneurs to scale and creative massive impact.

Also, our strategy is to reach out to 100 universities in next 3 years by identifying students and alumni who are passionate about social innovation or entrepreneurship through our programs and equip them to open centers of excellence in their institutions and build the desired ecosystem in their campuses. By providing mentoring, guidance and immersion experiences to students and exposing them to exhaustive knowledge about social entrepreneurship, we are a creating a positive multiplier effect to address India’s social problems.

Tristan Pollock

Co-founder of SocialEarth and Storefront. AngelPad alum.

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