Yesterday the National Association of Social Enterprises (NASE) met for the second time at the Vaatsalya Training Center in Bangalore. The topic of the meeting was Government-SE Partnership: Requirements and Way Forward, and featured three speakers from different social enterprises to lead the conversation on the issue.Ms. Gayathri Vasudevan began the evening by sharing insights based on her experiences with her social enterprise, LabourNet Services. LabourNet is a vocational training company that focuses on the empowerment of informal sector workers. As Gayathri explained in her presentation, “There is always tension between government and social enterprises.”
The reason for this tension is rooted in the relationship between government’s and SEs, which is, according to Gayathri an outsourcing relationship. Government’s will often outsource certain projects that they are incapable of executing on their own. One of these projects is vocational training. The SE-government partnership is one solution to address issues that governments do not have the capacity for but are nonetheless accountable for. This solution, however, means that governments place a particularly critical eye on potential private partners.
“A lot of our training is not in line with what the government needs for vocational training programs, explained Gayathri. “The government requires a classroom, infrastructure – but we go to where people are and train them there.”
Only a small amount of funding for LabourNet, therefore, comes from the government. Gayathri advises social enterprises not to base their business model on the “outsourcing” relationship with the government, because funding is not definite, and if you want that funding you must meet the strict guidelines government programs. You will in turn lose a certain level of freedom over your enterprise.
Mr. Gopal Garg, founder of Youth4Jobs Foundation, followed Gayathri by noting that in his case, his relationship with the government started by recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of the government, and then leveraging those strengths. Youth4Jobs Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to provide employment for the youth, specifically targeting persons with disabilities.
The first strength that Gopal recognized in the government was their plentiful non-financial resources. Like Gayathri, Gopal believed that financial transactions with the government will only lead to loss of control over the organization. Non-financial transactions, however, were a win-win. “They had a missionary that was already working with disabled persons,” Gopal explained, “so we made an MOU that said we would work with their missionary and help provide these people with employment.”The second strength of the government, Gopal said, is that they have targets to reach. Paralleling Gayathri’s notion of outsourcing, Gopal noted that governments are accountable to achieve certain objectives. If the objective of the social enterprise falls in line with that of the government, there is greater incentive for them to give their support.
The third strength of the government as it relates to social enterprise, Gopal stated, is their outreach. Unlike most private institutions, governments have the means and scale to reach the very last village.
Mr. Dipesh Sutariya wrapped up the conversation by discussing the social enterprise that he and his wife, Shanti Raghavan, founded, EnAble India. Like Youth4Jobs, EnAble works to provide training and employment opportunities for the disabled workforce.
EnAble, Dipesh explained, has taken advantage of the quota set by the government that 3% of government employees should be disabled. According to Dipesh, this quota has made it so that a large quantity of disabled persons are employed by public sector institutions, yet many of these employers do not know how to put them to work. In other cases, disabled persons are underemployed; when a visually impaired person is hired by the government, their immediate designation is to operate the telephones.
Their first major client was a public sector bank, which came to EnAble with this very problem. EnAble did a job analysis to identify tasks that could be performed by persons with disabilities. Once identified, EnAble selected 20 candidates to train for these specific jobs. The bank managers were thrilled with the results.
Though the NASE mixer presented three different perspectives on the issue of government support in the social sector, the lessons were clear throughout. First and foremost, to receive government support as a social enterprise, make sure you are addressing a need that the government is accountable for, but is unable to address adequately on its own. Second, if you want to maintain control over your enterprise, do not adapt to government guidelines in order to receive funding. Prove yourself, and the funding will come to you; or, simply seek support through non-financial resources.
For more information on the National Association of Social Enterprises, India, visit naseindia.org