Social enterprise and development partnerships: changemaker insights from Bangalore BizLitFest 2020
Later this month on October 30-31, the sixth annual Bangalore Business Literature Festival (BBLF) will kick off online. As the media partner for the festival, YourStory shares speaker insights in this second preview article (see our first preview article here).
See also YourStory’s Book Review section with reviews of over 270 titles on creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, social enterprise, and digital transformation.
The BBLF speaker lineup includes Prateek Raj (author of Evolution of Business and Markets), Rahul Chandra (The Moonshot Game), and Sudhir Sitapati (The CEO Factory). See our reviews of the books Social Entrepreneurship in India, Doing Better with Less, Eight Steps to Innovation, and Why I Stopped Wearing my Socks, written by speakers Madhukar Shukla, Navi Radjou, Rishikesha Krishnan, and Alok Kejriwal.
See also YourStory’s write-ups on the earlier editions of the festival in 2019 (skills, entrepreneurship, storytelling), 2018 (storytelling, founder tips), 2017 (entrepreneurship, failure insights, founder stories), 2016 (grassroots entrepreneurship, startup ecosystems) and 2015 (business models, startup boom, storytelling).
In this interview, we feature insights from Smarinita Shetty, Co-founder and CEO, India Development Review. She has over 20 years of experience across strategy, operations, sales and business development, and earlier worked at Dasra, Monitor Inclusive Markets, and JP Morgan.
She also co-founded Netscribes, one of India’s first knowledge process outsourcing firms. Smarinita has a BE in Computer Engineering and an MBA in Finance, both from Mumbai University.
YourStory [YS]: What are some of the best examples you have seen of resilience during the pandemic?
Smarinita Shetty [SS]: The best examples of resilience have nothing to do with organisations and urban India. It was demonstrated by migrants making their way home in hostile environments where they had little or no support from either the state or business.
The only players who stepped forward to provide support were nonprofits and civil society. Despite the constraints they faced, they rallied to offer some respite to the workers and their families as they walked back home during the lockdown.
Smarinita Shetty, Co-founder and CEO, India Development Review
YS: What are the typical challenges social entrepreneurs and NGOs face as they scale up their organisations? How can these challenges be addressed?
SS: These challenges vary depending on the problem being solved, the customers they serve (in terms of their ability to avail of the services and pay), government policies, the ecosystem, value chain, and other factors.
But the two fundamental challenges during scale-up are usually around funding and talent. One way to address the issue of funding is to grow the domestic universe of funding. This is easier said than done though — many organisations have tried to crack this but success has been limited.
The Indian impact ecosystem still relies heavily on global funding to help its organisations scale. On the NGO front, some of this funding comes from CSR (around Rs 10,000 crore, compared to Rs 16,000 crore of FCRA money). But this tends to be year-on-year funding that restrains nonprofits from planning long term as well as to certain sectors like health, education and rural development.
For both NGOs as well as social enterprises, the demand for funds is significantly higher than what is currently available for organisations looking to scale.
On the talent front, while we are seeing more people joining the sector, both at entry levels and CXO levels (via crossovers from corporate India, and as founders), the real gap is in the mid-senior management level. This is the level that is critical to have when organisations are ready to scale. The absence of this layer is a big barrier.
YS: What are some of the most outstanding recent examples you have come across of effective development projects and policies in India?
SS: India has some of the best laws and policies when it comes to issues of development – be it the PWDVA, POCSO, RTI, RTE, MNREGA, and others. The challenge has always been in how they are interpreted, implemented and the resources allocated to them.
With respect to development, the most effective ones are those that are run as longer-term programmes embedded in the communities they serve (and not just one-off projects). The programmes are in areas as diverse as gender-based violence, rural livelihoods, water and sanitation, education, primary healthcare, adolescent girls' empowerment, and women's participation in governance. This explains why we are able to see at least some progress in these areas despite the odds.
YS: What are the key success factors for effective partnership in the development ecosystem? What is holding back effective alliances here?
SS: We are beginning to see increasing collaboration between different kinds of players in the ecosystem because everyone has realised that social problems are too complex, intractable and long term to change alone.
No one (not even the largest foundations in the world) has the money, intellectual horsepower, networks and skills to solve for it on their own. So we are seeing all sorts of alliances take shape, which is great. For them to succeed, however, we need to see factors like vision, communication, and trust.
There needs to be not only a common vision for the end goal, but also broad agreement on the pathways to reach that goal with clear metrics of success for each milestone. There should be increased and constant communication among alliance partners, and willingness to learn from each other.
All partners should have equal skin in the game. This can come in different forms such as money, people, reputation, and others. There should be trust among the different partners.
Above all, there should be room for failure, learning from it, and moving ahead
A breakdown in any of the above factors causes alliances to fall apart or be sub-optimal. Other challenges are an unequal power dynamic if there are donors, government and NGOs in the same alliance, and funding-only alliances because they do not draw upon any of the strengths of a collaboration.
YS: How has been the journey of India Development Review so far?
SS: IDR was founded in 2017 as an independent online media platform that focuses on surfacing the lessons and expertise of changemakers so that social change can happen better, faster, and at scale.
It was founded by three women – Devanshi Vaid, Rachita Vora and myself – three years ago, to focus on the development community in India. IDR today has a global footprint through its partnerships with Skoll Foundation, World Economic Forum, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Acumen Fund.
We aim to become the voice of, and for, the development sector. Our work is already helping to create a sector that is better informed, embraces critical thinking, can scale rapidly, and therefore, becomes more efficient and effective.
Organisations in the social sector have leveraged IDR articles to raise funds, develop government policy briefs, identify collaboration partners, change organisational strategy and policies, and recruit talent. IDR articles are also used extensively as a curriculum in Indian and global universities.
YS: What is the scope and reach of your activities?
SS: IDR provides 180-degree coverage of the development sector — from high-level perspectives by industry stalwarts to on-the-ground experiences of frontline workers. In the last three years, we have produced over 800 insight-rich articles, 26 percent of which are focused on underserved areas.
More than 50 percent of IDR's readers and contributors are women. Our content reaches more than a million readers every month, and our readers come from every state in India and across every continent. Two out of three IDR articles have been republished by 183 mainstream print and online channels.
Some examples of impact include: the formation of a collaborative comprising six of India's leading domestic and global foundations around capacity building; training on caste-diversity at one of India’s largest domestic philanthropic foundations; use of content in multiple government policy briefs on rural livelihoods; and usage as curriculum and reference material across several universities, including TISS, Ashoka, University of Mumbai, Azim Premji University, and Columbia University.
YS: What are some future steps planned?
SS: In line with our vision of expanding the discourse on development in the country, IDR will leverage technology and data to reach mainstream audiences and drive conversations on issues that have till date been restricted to the social sector.
We will also continue to surface lesser-known voices, cover underserved issues and regions, and feature diverse perspectives. We will publish these through a range of multi-media formats including podcasts, videos, and text.
YS: Can you suggest five recent books on development that our audience must read?
SS: Manifesto for a Moral Revolution (Jacqueline Novogratz), The RTI Story (Aruna Roy), Giving with a Thousand Hands (Pushpa Sundar), Sense and Solidarity (Jean Dreze), and World of Three Zeroes (Prof Muhammud Yunus).
IDR is also a good resource if the audience wants to learn about the development and the different approaches, models and perspectives that make up the impact sector.
YS. As a serial entrepreneur, what is your advice to other founders on 'moving on to the next thing,' or finding a way to give back to society?
SS: It is a necessary condition that founders must be deeply committed to their ideas and the organisations they build. As a result, the only way it is deemed acceptable for a founder to leave their company (and start the next one) is when they have an exit – usually as a stake sale. Because those are the only stories we get to hear – the ‘successful’ ones.
However, there are so many entrepreneurs who build businesses that fail, those who have differences with their co-founders and/or board members, and those who burn out and leave. And to them I'd like to say – entrepreneurship is an invaluable mindset and skill, something that you can call upon again and again. And it might be worth investing that kind of energy, passion and commitment once again, if you can.
I'm also a big proponent of working in the social sector because I firmly believe that the kind of challenges that this sector poses far outweighs anything you would find in the world of business and technology. The problems are complex, intergenerational. and every time you think you've solved for part of it, it morphs into something new.
Most entrepreneurs do what they do because they want to tackle a challenge, to solve a problem. The social sector gives you that in plenty. More importantly, it gives you a sense of satisfaction when you see the impact of your work on the ground, and on the people you serve.
YS: What are your parting words of advice to the aspiring social entrepreneurs and activists in our audience, on how to succeed in such an uncertain world?
SS: If you are thinking of becoming a social entrepreneur, be brave and take risks. The upside is you have the chance to change the status quo; the downside is limited — if it doesn’t work out, you would still have acquired valuable skills and networks that will hold you in good stead in the next thing that you do.
But before you do decide to start, spend time understanding your customer and the community you want to serve. Because without that knowledge, money, intellect, skills and networks will only take you so far.