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[TC-I Changemakers]: NSEF to develop nationwide network of centres at universities

Vinay Ganti
24th Oct 2009
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The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tag.

In this edition TCI-changemaker focuses on the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum, whose goal is to establish centres for social entrepreneurship at all the top universities in India and develop a robust network of people committed to the idea. Through a combination of programming, internships, competitions and other activities NSEF intends to equip the next generation of social entrepreneurs. Rakesh Anugula, co-founder and Chairman of NSEF, was kind enough to be interviewed via e-mail.

What exactly does your organization do?

NSEF promotes social entrepreneurship among the students of major universities by inspiring, educating and supporting the next generation of social entrepreneurs and by creating environments where they can succeed. NSEF helps to educate these young leaders about social problems, expose them to the opportunities in the sector, foster innovation in solving social problems and nurture budding entrepreneurs through the high quality ecosystem that NSEF creates in these institutes.

This would be achieved through collaboration with different organizations in the social entrepreneurship sector to put on workshops, summits, social business plan competitions, startup exhibitions, internships, fellowships, grass roots entrepreneurship development and so forth.

Why start this? What personally drove these entrepreneurs to start this?

I started Nirmaan four years back when I was studying in BITS Pilani. It’s a non-profit organization which provides education and employment opportunities to unprivileged people. A good number of my batch mates and juniors joined the efforts and spent more hours with Nirmaan than they did attending classes. The result is that we were able to provide help to a considerable number of people. But the model was not sustainable. Four years of grass roots experience in Nirmaan has taught me that charity has its limitations and that it’s not a practical approach to lead sustainable solutions for addressing social problems even though charity has a continued place in society. That’s when I realized that we need to help people build organizations that can apply innovation along with powerful tools and techniques to develop sustainable solutions.

I shared my thoughts of need for promotion of social entrepreneurship with a few of my colleagues Sri Kumar Murthy and Yashveer Singh at Nirmaan. I also reached out to Sudip Dutta and Vinay Ganti (co-founder of TC-I) for additional feedback. Since then our team has grown even more. We all have come together to take up the task of building NSEF’s activities at universities. As such, NSEF began in March 2009.

What do you think is lacking in the sector of your organization’s interest in spite of your intervention?

A lot of discussion is happening about social entrepreneurship nowadays, but a platform to transform our youth’s energy for a sustainable social change is missing; we have started this with our bit.

Who are the founders and management? What do they do?

People are from a diversified set of backgrounds — some possess modest credentials in the social entrepreneurship field, but all are passionate about social entrepreneurship. The founding members also have a wide range experience in sales and marketing, strategy formation, business consulting, software development along with grassroots experience in NGOs and development organizations.

How is it funded?

Our strategy is to make NSEF financially sustainable on its own in the long term through event sponsorships and by charging the social enterprises for internships and start up exhibitions etc.

We incur certain initial expenses while we set up a NSEF center in a university or an institution. We also provide an initial resource pool to each center we open to conduct the activities or events. In order to meet these expenses. we are looking to grants from donors/institutions which promotes social entrepreneurship or from social business ventures working at grass roots. We have recently started approaching both donors and business ventures and we are very positive that we will be successful in getting the initial grants soon.

NSEF has well planned set of modest returns to offer to either of these institutions in return to their grants. I take this opportunity to appeal to both these kind of institutions to help us in our mission of promotion of social innovation and entrepreneurship.

How do you measure your effectiveness?

As a first step, we would measure our effectiveness by assessing participation of students in universities in our events or activities. In the short term, we would like to get the youth motivated and start getting involved in social businesses by interning and closely working with social organizations and in the long run, we would definitely measure our success by the number of social entrepreneurs we prepare and by the number of ventures we help our participants to successfully launch and solve social needs or problems.

How do you intend to scale this model going forward? What are the future goals/plans for the venture?

Our plan is to have NSEF centers set up and functioning in all major Universities in next two years. We already have our centers currently operating in IIM Lucknow and BITS, Pilani. Inauguration at BITS Goa is scheduled in January. Our strategy is to identify students and alumni who are passionate about social innovation or entrepreneurship through our events like internships, fellowships and through our network and equip them to open a center in their institution and carry out the activities and events. We are in talks with such students and alumni from two IITs and one IIM and we will be operating in around six institutions by next September.

I take this opportunity to appeal to those who are interested in taking this initiative forward to approach us. This year we are planning to provide internships to at least 30 students from reputed institutions like IIMs, IITs, BITS etc in different successful social business ventures. We have already signed agreements with three reputed social enterprises for this purpose. We intend to increase this number year by year as we increase our centers and we intend to become a leader in developing required talent pool for the social enterprises. This current year, we are planning to offer at least five fellowships through NSEF fellowship program by which would facilitate the ventures which are in their early stages through several means like mentoring, funding etc. We plan to organically grow it and facilitate as many social ventures as possible in coming few years.

What criteria do you use to identify partners/beneficiaries ?

We have planned all our events by keeping our vision, mission and long term goals in mind and we are very focused about them. We have spent a considerable number of brainstorming sessions before we have arrived at our events. Our idea from day one was to leverage the expertise which different organizations have developed over a period of time in this field to realize our vision and provide good returns in turn to the partners with the uniqueness that we possess. So, when we started thinking about who to partner with we focused on finding organizations that could help us execute specific events. We look at the value that each partner can provide to the event and the value that NSEF can offer in return to the partner. In a nutshell, we identify partners based on the common area of interest and the mutual benefit that both NSEF and the partner can enjoy. We have already signed partnerships with a few reputed social business ventures and organizations and we are in talks with many more.

We have different criteria to identify participants or beneficiaries of different events or activities that we conduct. Some of them are already listed on our website and some of them are yet to be up on website. Please refer www.nsef-india.org

If some one else is starting off on your own sector of work, what advice do you have for him/her?

Social entreprenuership is the sector that I would say is going to be a challenging field for innovators and for leaders. This sector offers an immense opportunity for you to lead change. It has just opened up and has already started showing signs of success by generating around $3 trillion turnover annually and with several ventures or innovations changing lives of millions. People, government, corporations and funding agencies have realized that this is a way to achieve sustainable development and have started encouraging social entrepreneurs and innovators in several ways. I urge more and more people with a passion to make a difference to enter this field and make a difference to themselves and to the people. One major need is greter patience as today’s youth expect faster results. Students today will need to maintain their drive for a substantial amount of time.

Assuming this problem exists in similar forms throughout the world, what unique challenges do you face in fighting it here in India?

Though sustainability for solving social problems has already become a successful mantra in the developed world it is very uncommon for people there to encounter the multitude of problems like the ones faced in developing countries. The irony is people here are already well aware of the social problems and today India has come to an age where people can appreciate and understand social entrepreneurship. But what is lacking is the impetus to tackle these problems and take it to forward on the right track. All we need now is young educated Indians who can take that plunge and build strong vision-driven sustainable organizations to solve these problems. NSEF through its tailor made programs will firstly create awareness about social entrepreneurship then equip people with the talent needed to innovate and build organizations and finally support these ventures to ensure

that they become successful models for tomorrow.

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