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Creating Social Value: The Joys and Perils of being a Social Entrepreneur

Chetan Kapoor, Founder and CEO, Edulever Consulting
Monday, December 28, 2015
Chetan Kapoor, Founder and CEO, Edulever Consulting
Edulever Consulting is a resource and consulting organization for CSR and social development sectors, focusing on education and skill development. Founded in 2009, Edulever has completed over 60 projects with leading corporates such as Tech Mahindra Foundation, ITC, and Dorabji Tata Trust.

While surfing the net, I recently came across a list of the top ten social entrepreneurship heroes. The list had Mahatma Gandhi as the first entry, and the others that made the grade were Dr.Verghese Kurien, Vikram Akula, Sam Pitroda, and Sunil Bharti Mittal. If this list appears somewhat eclectic, it is only because the term Social Entrepreneurship does not have a standard definition. It is usually referred to the type of entrepreneurship that is concerned with finding a solution for a social problem, and then applying the solution at scale.

Unlike conventional (or commercial) entrepreneurship, where the focus is on maximizing returns for the shareholders irrespective of whether the enterprise has a social benefit, the focus of a social entrepreneur is on maximizing returns for the society. A social enterprise, structured as a non-profit or a for-profit, is generally philanthropic in nature, but is not dependent on charity for its sustenance. In the Indian context, perhaps the best example of a social enterprise is Amul, which was founded in 1946 as a response to the exploitation of milkmen at the hands of middlemen and large dairies. Dr.Kurien was given the task of managing the cooperative in 1950, and as a sterling social entrepreneur, was instrumental in establishing Amul as a household brand and the largest milk producer in the world.

In the past few years, as commercial start-ups have garnered increasing attention and have found an easier ecosystem to operate in, social start-ups too have seen a fair share of growth. More and more organizations that have 'making the world a better place' as their key objective have sprung up, working in areas such as health, environment, energy conservation, and education. Graduates from top B-schools and IITs are being drawn towards social enterprise. Indeed, there is scarcely a joy more thrilling than finding a solution to a problem that can help thousands - or even millions - of people. However, those who choose to tread this path must ensure that they have the mental strength to go through a precarious trajectory, and a burning conviction that their solution is indeed the one that the world has been waiting for.

Just before I started off on this journey a few years back, I had the chance to listen to Victor Menezes, the former Vice Chairman of Citigroup worldwide, at a conference. He spoke of the 4 P's of a social enterprise - the critical success factors for a social venture. These are: Passion, Purpose, People, and Processes. Menezes had an interesting analogy to explain this - if your social enterprise is a car, he said, then Passion is the fuel, Purpose is the steering, People form the driver, and Processes are the brakes. Just as a car cannot run without these four, a social enterprise needs to have the four Ps in ample measure to achieve success.
Along with these, the social entrepreneur has to keep in mind that there may not be the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the journey even if he is successful - his motivations have to clearly lie elsewhere. Making a social development program financially sustainable - let alone profitable - is one of the greatest challenges in the sector. Unfortunately, the social investment ecosystem is yet to make a serious headway in India, with only a few organizations such as Acumen India and Dasra actively supporting social enterprises.

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