Uday Nair's journey from Sheffield University PhD student to launching his own social enterprise


Increasingly, universities globally, are waking up to massive strides that social entrepreneurship has made, and have incorporated as it part of their core curriculum. Ashoka Innovators for the public have a separate initiative called Ashoka U, that recognizes these universities as a ‘Changemaker Campus.’ At present there are more than 20 universities around the world including Brown, Duke, Arizona State, Dublin City, Tulane, Cornell and the University of Maryland that have been recognized as changemaker campus for their work on social innovation. Buoyed by the fact that social entrepreneurship offers both a career choice and appeases the conscience students have been flocking to colleges that offer courses in social entrepreneurship. Uday Nair, a PhD student at Sheffield University Management School, and a coordinator for Asha for Education, Sheffield Chapter is one of them. In this exclusive interview with SocialStory’s Nelson Vinod Moses (NVM) he speaks about his inspiration to do a PhD in social entrepreneurship, volunteering, childhood experiences and plans to start his own social venture.

Here are edited excerpts:

NVM: Have you have always been motivated/ inspired to do something in the social sector? Why?

Apart from studies I was very active in different volunteering activities organized by my school and colleges. I was also an active member of students union at my Engineering college, I had taken after college teaching of children at Fr. Agnel’s orphanage and was also active in Lions Club of Powai, Mumbai.

My first encounter with social activities was at the age of 12 years. Our company (Nair’s family has business interests in construction, food processing and banking) was sponsoring textbooks and note books for the children of the Municipal school in our locality in Mumbai and we were called upon by the organizers to distribute it. While I was distributing the books, one of the children around the age of 5 years touched my feet after taking the text book from my hand, but that moment touched my heart and I was taken aback by this gesture. Following that child’s gesture all the other children followed suit. At my age, at that time something like this had a very high impact on me as a person both mentally and spiritually. Ever since this event I started becoming more active in our company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

NVM: Why did you choose Sheffield University Management School for your PhD studies?

Nair: Following my MBA (at Sheffield), I worked as teaching assistant at University of Sheffield Management School which kind of introduced me to the academic world of UK. And I would say this is when the seed of doing a PhD was sown. In order to get into the academic world in UK, a PhD is an essential. When deciding about this, there were a lot of variables which needed to be considered. Some of them were funding, job opportunities, brand value of the University/country where you do the PhD from etc. During my MBA days, over the weekends I volunteered for a charity organization named ‘Asha for Education’ in Sheffield. This organization organizes fundraising events to support education of underprivileged children in India. While working at Asha for Education, the researchers who were a part of it helped me immensely during the process of PhD application as most of the ASHA Volunteers already awarded or were pursuing PhD.

Once the proposal was ready I started gathering information about different Universities like University of Plymouth, University of Leicester, Open University, University of Glasgow and University of Sheffield. I made applications to these Universities and started refining my proposal and this led to the title ‘Developing Systemic Design principles for technology enabled learning environment ‘. During an interaction with my current supervisor, he displayed an interest in my research topic and at the same time, the University of Sheffield offered me partial scholarship to pursue my PhD here. For all the other applications, I had to wait for another 5-6 months to start my PhD. So I thought ‘Why wait? Lets start’ and that’s how my whole PhD work at University of Sheffield Management School started.

NVM: Tell us about your area of study.

Nair: Ever since I started using the computer at the age of 7, I was fascinated by computers and the associated technologies. While working as a Teaching Assistant I started contemplating on the notion of using different technologies into the everyday classroom and this deliberation eventually led me to the topic of ‘e-learning’. With the help of my colleagues from Asha for Education I developed a research proposal around this topic.

NVM: Tell us about Asha for Education and the partnership with Sheffield. How long has been going on and what have been the highlights?

Nair: Asha for Education, Sheffield began its journey in 2006 with a few University students and full time professionals within Sheffield who wanted to make a change in the education sector of India. The University of Sheffield has been a supporter of Asha for Education, Sheffield through the Asha Society (a students wing) within the University of Sheffield Students Union.

Asha for Education, Sheffield chapter is part of team Asha, which currently has 67 active chapters worldwide. Asha for Education, Sheffield and the Asha society organizes various fund raising events across the year with the help of its volunteers including students of The University of Sheffield.

NVM: Since when have you been working on this project? Tell us in great detail about your expectations, experience, highlights, challenges and what made you happy or sad.

Nair: I had joined Asha as a volunteer in 2011 and saw this organization not only as a platform to contribute towards the growth of India but also a way to meet new people. At Asha, I had the privilege of meeting people from India Spain, Nigeria, UK, Morroco, Italy who were active members of Asha. I have worked on different fund raising events from baking and selling cakes to organizing badminton tournaments to participating in local food festivals.

Working in charity organization is quite tiring than working in a business organization. Employees could be motivated through promotions, salary; benefits etc but when it comes to volunteers its about motivation and self-actualization. Motivation behaves like a bell curve hence it is of significant importance to motivate people around you through organizing socials or get together like bowling, group trekking and house parties.

Fund raising is not an easy thing to do, so we worked with local charity organizations like The Children’s Hospital, by organizing events collaboratively. What makes me sad is that India is a growing country but at the same time the divide between the rich and poor is also growing. What makes me happy is this and this is worth hundred of my work hours spent and would not mind doing it again and again.

NVM: Do you plan to start your own social enterprise?

Nair: Yes I do plan to start a social enterprise. And I feel proud in saying that “Its half way through to fruition”.


Updates from around the world