The Villgro UNCONVENTION at Chennai, ‘Where Path Makers meet Path Breakers’, showcased social entrepreneurship fittingly in the limelight it deserves. Paul Basil’s brainchild Villgro enables social entrepreneurship by taking rural innovations and ideas to market. To act as a catalyst, its rural product store Villgro store,which uses a village level entrepreneur (VLE) to sell products sourced from rural innovators, is now present in 10 villages in Erode district in Tamil Nadu. Villgro’s first-ever conference UNCONVENTION turned to recognize and celebrate social entrepreneurship, with the theme “Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship to impact the rural poor”. For the first time ever, UNCONVENTION managed to stage four synergistic events bringing together a business plan competition, trade exhibition fair, conference, and award and recognition function. UNCONVENTION is tipped to serve as a benchmark event in bringing together people in the social sector entrepreneurship across the country.
Inaugurating the conference, Paul Basil, CEO, Villgro said: “We’re ready to take on the social entrepreneurship and innovation sectors in a big way. We don’t want to take baby steps. We want to make huge efforts to shed light on the ecosystem in a way that has never been done before. And hope we can create a revolution.” He added, “Villgro is bringing something new to the table with the UNCONVENTION. Though there have been numerous forums in India where either innovation or social entrepreneurship has been discussed and knowledge has been shared, there is no single form which addresses both of these ideas – and brings in the most important element: The Rural Poor. ” In conclusion he noted: “UNCONVENTION will be a common meeting ground for innovators, social entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers, opinion leaders, academics, researchers, media and leading lights from the ecosystem to catalyze and celebrate every player who has made socially-relevant market based models possible!” true to his dream of making rural entrepreneurship possible.
Villgro Awards at UNCONVENTION truly represented the unconventional nature of the social endeavor, which is aimed not at making money but making a difference to unsung and unknown hinterlands in India, and recognized people who made social entrepreneurship their vocation, who enabled the social entrepreneurial ecosystem, and who put the social entrepreneurship in the limelight.
Sulabh International’s founder Bindeshwar Pathak was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in due recognition of his contribution to rural sanitation through Sulabh. Suminter India Organics Ltd., which contracts organic farming to small farmers thereby enabling organic produce and economic stability, received the Social Enterprise of the Year award. While these categories are part of any kind of award grouping, recognizing grassroots innovator, incubator, and investor represented the importance of the different stakeholders in contributing to the social entrepreneurial ecosystem. T. Muthu Ayyappan was recognized as the Grassroots Innovator for his innovative automatic feeder for poultry fish farms. ICRISAT Agri Business Incubator, which has helped start more than 100 rural businesses, was awarded the Incubator award and Acumen Fund, which has invested in many rural businesses, was awarded the Investor award.
Media plays the role of an enabler of rural entrepreneurship by its focused campaigns. Shree Padre of Adige Patrike (a Kannada journal), who brought to limelight more than 400 rural enterprises and rural entrepreneurs, was awarded the Journalist of the year. Adige Patrike is widely followed by rural farmers in Karnataka for news about innovations and entrepreneurship.
Young Turks program hosted by Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18 focuses on social entrepreneurship exclusively and features entrepreneurs who answered their social calling to make a difference. In recognition of this contribution, CNBC-TV 18 was presented the Media House of the year award.
Villgro Summit, which included a host of panel discussions at the UNCONVENTIONAL focused on brainstorming ideas that can impact the rural poor, saw the participation of eminent leaders from the innovation and social entrepreneurial ecosystem. Panel discussions included Dr. Paul Polak, Founder and President, International Development Enterprise (IDE); Deep Joshi, Recipient of Magsaysay Award and co-founder of PRADAN; Dr. Joe Madiath, Executive Director, Gram Vikas; Mr. H. K. Mittal, Advisor and Member Secretary and Head, NSTEDB, Government of India; Mr. S. Siva Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Agri Business Division ITC-IBD e-choupal, and many more gurus from the social sector.
Business Plan Competition
Wantrapreneur, the business plan competition, was the first day’s engagement. The winners of Wantrapreneur were announced at the awards and recognition ceremony. Featuring three categories, the jury selected NEEADS (G. Gopalakrishnan, Dr. Raghavan; mass manufacturing of rice husk ash-based bricks) in the Start up Category; Pranjal Baruah, Mushroom Development Foundation (mushroom cultivation) in the Early Growth – Agriculture category, and Ossian Agro Automation (Santosh Ostwal/Rajashree Ostwal; wireless automation of irrigation systems) in the Others category.
To be an inclusive event that also highlighted Products and Technology Showcase handpicked by Villgro, an Innovation Fair showcasing highly market-worthy innovations was put up in various stalls. 25 innovators showcased various products such as battery-operated simple hand milking machine, aerial spraying using unmanned aircraft, banana yarn separator machine, garlic peeling machine, solar powered refrigeration, pin pulveriser, to name a few, and many more other than the Villgro Store.
Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy (Chief Evangelist, YourStory.in) covered the event at Chennai