Social Enterprises and Scale: Twitter Based #SocEntChat Explores Scalability Among Indian Social Enterprises

Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Asia, Entrepreneurship, Tech

We know that India is full of ingenious and resilient entrepreneurs working at the grassroots level to solve urgent social problems in a variety of sectors. But in a country of over 1.2 billion people – most with unmet basic human needs – we need solutions that scale. Scaling ventures is a challenge that all entrepreneurs face. This challenge becomes vital to social enterprises where the scale of their impact becomes imperative to the success of their social mission.

A Twitter based virtual discussion called #SocEntchat was hosted by Ashoka Changemakers and Action for India for 2 hours on June 6, 2012 to explore the topic of scale among Indian early-stage social enterprises. Industry experts, social enterprise ecosystem organizations and early stage social entrepreneurs came together to discuss the various issues associated with scale in the Indian social enterprise sector.

The chat was part of the launch of Action for India’s Growth Prize Competition on The Competition will award five social entrepreneurs who demonstrate progress in scaling – or preparing to scale – their ventures during a 6-month engagement period. Growth Prizes will be awarded in five sectors: education, healthcare, agriculture, energy and livelihoods. Winners will each receive INR 5L in funding, plus a bundle of free IT, legal, financial and consulting services. All participants will also benefit from this opportunity to grow and promote their enterprise using the globally recognized Ashoka platform for social innovation, and will be invited to participate in the 2013 AFI National Forum.

The June 6th chat started with discussions about the capabilities young social enterprises need to have to scale. Key components for scaling suggested by the panellists included: right revenue model, right hiring and team, flexibility, ability to collaborate and partner, cost effective deployment of resources, clear understanding of the market, technology adoption and right attitude towards product/service iterations . “Understand the ground realities and the actual need.  Most social enterprises work on a lot of assumptions which make them fail”, noted Sudip Dutta, Founder of Aporv.

The chat then discussed some of the role models in India – successful social enterprises which have managed to scale their impact. Embrace, Novartis, micro-finance institutions, Vaatsalya healthcare, Dlight, Sanergy, IDE, Eram Scientific, OpAsha, mPesa, Akshaya Patra, Skymet and Milaap were some of the examples shared.

But can social enterprises use “Jugaad” to scale? Can they scale without significant  resources? Our participants suggested that strategies such as having a lean team, innovation, collaboration, right hiring by hitting generalists, maintaining a focus, and using customers as evangelists could lead  to scale without drying up limited resources. The external support required for scaling was the next topic of discussion and some of the resources that our panelists and participants suggested were public-private partnerships, proactive support from the government, incubation and access to finance.

There are several challenges that early-stage social enterprises face while scaling. Some of the challenges that repeatedly came across were lack of support from government and funders, lack of structured measurement and monitoring tools and finding the right people to work in your organizations. The chat also discussed the role of technology in scaling social enterprises and some of the pitfalls early stage social enterprises need to avoid .

Click here to read the Storify Summary of the chat (that captures real time discussion stream with limited narrative from the author).

Vallabh Rao

Vallabh is from Bangalore, India. As a freelance consultant he helps social and green enterprises to communicate and market themselves better. Previously he has worked with media platform and social enterprise enabler Ashoka in India and Digital Divide Data in Cambodia.

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