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Live from the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, Day 1

Shital Shah
8th Dec 2009
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In a gathering of practitioners and investors, the Khemka Forum kicked off today at the India School of Business in Hyderabad. The day’s activities ranged from plenaries to sector working group lunches to track breakouts. Social entrepreneurs converged to discuss the state of their field, lessons learnt, ideas for collaboration, and the way forward.

As Don Mohanlal, CEO of Khemka Foundation, quoted, “the best time to begin a long journey was 10 years ago. The next best time is today.” In the long journey to create a complete social entrepreneurship ecosystem in India, the Khemka Forum aimed to kick off a constructive conversation on action-oriented, short-term ideas that Indian social entrepreneurs could take as the work toward the longer term goal.

Working Scale Issues: “Fingers Burnt, Lessons Learnt”

Healthy debate and discussion around scale indicated that even the most successful social enterprises in India are grappling with this issue. Manish Sabharwal, Co-Founder of TeamLease, mentioned that entrepreneurs can create two types of organizations – a baby or a dwarf – one that starts small and gets much bigger, or one that will remain small. He identified various factors that influence scale, including opportunity, team, organizational design, strategy, and risk. Pawan Patil, CEO of the Global Partnership for Youth Investment, talked about creating an enabling environment and busting myths. Dr. Patil focused largely on creating jobs, especially for the growing youth population, as a necessary step toward achieving scale. Nachiket Mor, President of ICICI Foundation, emphasized starting from the ground, building up, and then replicating.

SCALERS

In a session on “SCALERS – Driving Social Impact,” Matthew Nash, Managing Director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, discussed a new model for talking about scale. SCALERS stands for Staffing, Communicating, Alliance-building, Lobbying, Earnings generation, Replicating, and Stimulating market forces. Parag Gupta, Founder of Waste Bank, presented a case study on SELCO (TC-I previously interviewed Harish Hande here) using the SCALERS model and identified the enterprise’s accomplishments and challenges. 

Similarly, Professor Madhukar Shukla of XLRI Jamshedpur presented a case study on Nidan (founded by Arbind Singh, Khemka’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008). Since Nidan focuses on a completely different sector – organizing marginalized workers – and operates as a nonprofit, the two organizations had very different outcomes on the SCALERS model. The model provided a good basis to talk about the various factors involved in scaling up and strategic steps for moving forward.

Sector Working Groups

I sat in on the sector working group focusing on rural innovations, led by Prema Gopalan of Swayam Sikshan Prayog. Other working groups included health, education, renewable energy, and youth entrepreneurship. The rural innovations group identified major barriers – from knowledge management to product design to innovative financing. From there, the conversation shifted to collaborations and action steps, especially on ways that practitioners could connect more deeply and consistently. We will all have to stay tuned to see what these working group discussions will eventually produce…

Alternative Talent Pools

Finally, I attended the track organized by Dasra on Building Alternative Talent Pool. In a panel facilitated by Dasra Managing Partner Neera Nundy, Manish Sabharwal (again of TeamLease), Deep Joshi (Co-Founder of Pradan), and Prashant Bhaskar (Head of PLUG HR) discussed the ways in which they attracted, retained, and built the capacity of talent for organizations. A lively discussion around how social enterprises should hire and train employees ensued, with Mr. Sabharwal reminding the audience that the role of the employer is not to manufacture employees, while Mr. Joshi explained his desire to treat each person in the organization as a changemaker or social entrepreneur. A lot of the discussion linked back to public policy and the existing inequality of opportunity, as well as the need to reform current skill development and vocational training programs. Finally, participants worked through the importance of organizational culture, citing personal examples of how to make sure a certain culture permeates from the top to the bottom of an enterprise.

More to come…

The Khemka Forum continues tomorrow, and as the organizers have been promising, more discussion will take place on concrete, action steps that entrepreneurs can take back with them throughout India. Check back on TC-I for more news straight from the Forum! 

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