Interview on 'social entrepreneurship and role of Indian youth' with Rita Anand, author, “Inventive Indians”
Rita and Umesh Anand are the editors of the book “Inventive Indians: 23 Great Stories of Change” (see my book review here). The book features a range of activists and innovators in healthcare, education, environment, media, children’s rights, agriculture and retail. Rita Anand is founder and editor of Civil Society magazine, and has reported widely on development issues. A teacher by training, she is a graduate from Loreto College, Kolkata, and holds a post-graduate degree in history from Jadavpur University. Rita joins us in this exclusive interview on social entrepreneurship in India and the important role of youth.
Q: What kinds of responses and feedback did you get for your book? Are you planning a sequel or related books?
A: The response has been good. Readers have found it an inspirational book. The paperback version ranked eighth in the non-fiction category in Landmark. Yes, we are planning a sequel.
Q: What are the key challenges facing social entrepreneurs in India these days?
A: I think problems differ from sector to sector. But social entrepreneurs need mentoring, capital, marketing strategies and new distribution networks. In short – a new ecosystem.
Older people who would make ideal mentors often do not have the time or the inclination to do so. We need to encourage more successful business people to become venture capitalists. They would then have a vested interest in mentoring.
Secondly, banks are still chary about lending to start-ups. You need to explore new ways of distribution too that brings direct returns to the entrepreneur rather than to a long queue of middlemen. Informing consumers about your product needs creative strategy.
Q: How can digital media be used to accelerate social entrepreneurship in India, and what are the limitations?
A: For marketing and distribution these are great tools. With panchayats getting connected there is huge opportunity for selling relevant apps in education, agriculture, nutrition info and banking services.
But you could also get loads of useless apps being pushed to people, like irritating SMSs. ICT is great for communicating, for giving important information, for money transactions.
But for health and education you need good teachers, schools, hospitals and doctors. You can tell an anganwadi worker about nutrition but you need the village community to ensure that anganwadis function. ICT is one additional tool to empower people, but cannot monitor programs happening on the ground.
Q: What are your recommendations to the Indian government on supporting and accelerating social entrepreneurship in India?
A: The Government of India does not need my opinion. They have some pretty smart advisors!
Q: What are your views on social entrepreneurship in today’s youth generation in India?
A: I am very optimistic. Their enthusiasm and enterprise surprises me. Look at the number of young Indians who go abroad to study and come back. They are doing some very innovative work, setting up businesses back of beyond. They have courage and lots of opportunity and pride in India.
Q: How can alliances and partnerships help scale social innovation in India?
A: Alliances have not yet taken off. Social enterprise is still a new area. You are kind of cutting the jungle. But I think the fair trade movement in India, the organic farmers movement and Ela Bhatt’s Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA) are worthy models.
Q: What role does the media play in increasing awareness about social entrepreneurship?
A: By publishing success stories of social enterprises, we inspire others and spread good ideas around – apart from warning of pitfalls and the downside. One has to be real.
Q: What are your parting words of advice to the startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?
A: Be enthusiastic and persistent. Intuition matters. Always over-estimate the competition and your enemies. Make lots of friends and keep learning!
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image credit: Civil Society Online