The Next Frontier
Date: Tuesday , July 03, 2007
Many of the successful Indian entrepreneurs of the 90’s who spurred the economic boom in the Silicon Valley, and spread innovation and entrepreneurship to India, are beginning to look at the next frontier of change and impact. Many of these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have financially done very well for themselves creating thousands of jobs in the Valley, creating significant shareholder value for themselves and others. Vinod Khosla, Radha Basu, Anil Godhwani, Ram Sriram, Rajat Gupta, and countless others, the list is endless. Each of these individuals is searching for where could be the next big impact, one which will truly contribute to a better future.
These people see themselves more as “social entrepreneurs” rather than “philanthropists”. They want to affect change through their efforts, and of course capital comes with it as a byproduct. Vinod Khosla, for example, has taken a big interest in Alternative Energy helping the world reduce dependency on oil. There are significant environmental issues with fossil fuels, which Al Gore brings out quite aptly in his landmark book “The inconvenient truth”. Regardless of how the alternative energy market plays out, ethanol, solar, or butanol, one thing is for certain, that is change is on its way. I would acknowledge the power of these entrepreneurs who are daring to dream big and take on the existing clout of the oil producing companies. Recently at a “Silicon Valley Leadership Group” luncheon comprising of prominent CEO’s and Venture Capitalists, it became pretty clear that the issues of alternative energy have hit the top of the mind. Billions of dollars have started to flow in this direction of “Clean Tech”. I am sure there will be many disappointments along the way. However, as an optimist and an entrepreneur I do know that we will make it work at the end. This is what Silicon Valley and entrepreneurship stand for. Such dedication for change is driven by capitalistic principles but is also designed to contribute to the uplift of the planet and communities around the world. These new breeds of social enterprises have a “double bottom line”: one which is due to the underlying profit model which is the case with any typical corporation, but, the second bottom line comes because of the financial value of the “greater good”.
I was pleased to see the formation of Google.org, Omidyar Network, and several other platforms for social entrepreneurship in the Valley. Several of these organizations are raising billions of dollars in funds to drive positive impact and change. Vikram Akula of SKS Microfinance, a McKinsey alumnus, won the “Time Top 100 People of the year” award for his exemplary work for women in Indian villages extending a micro-finance loan portfolio of over US $50 million with over 160 percent annual portfolio growth. And of course, we all have heard of the great work which Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh Grameen Bank has done, taking his humble micro-finance portfolio of few hundred dollars in early 80’s to a billion dollar micro-finance fund, helping drive entrepreneurship amongst the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh and around the world. If you talk to one of the “Web 2.0” entrepreneurs in the Valley, he would characterize this micro-finance phenomenon as addressing the “Long tail” of entrepreneurship – implying that while in the past the capital was only available to the best of the best entrepreneurs, in this Web 2.0 world, entrepreneurship is being extended to the very long tail of individuals, for whom debt finance of a few dollars can have a dramatic impact on economic output. I briefly talked about this concept in my column last month on “Micro Entrepreneurship”.
Another area where social enterprises are making a big difference is in the healthcare and education space. A small relatively unknown organization called CFHI (Child Family Health International) is now sending thousands of students, pre-meds, resident interns, and healthcare professionals to countries like India, South Africa, and Brazil to help underserved communities around the world through health education. Started by a Stanford doctor, Dr. Evaleen Jones, and under my guidance from the Board, CFHI has created a very powerful model in the arena of “Service Learning”. The idea of allowing people to learn through service has a significant community impact. I believe that traditional education at universities will be greatly augmented by not only distance education models but also “service learning models” which create positive contributions through student services, practical internships and experiential learning. Students gain credit for their educational curriculum, communities gain benefit through their services and contributions, universities enjoy a superior reputation through innovative educational models. CFHI has now teamed up with Stanford, Princeton, UC Davis, and several other leading universities of repute. Again, this area of health and education is a new opportunity space for social entrepreneurs who want to fundamentally impact health and education.
So, whether it is “Clean Tech”, “Alternative Energy”, “Micro-finance”, or “Service Learning”, social entrepreneurs are beginning to dream of the next big innovation to create impact and drive change, setting the role model for the next generation of entrepreneurship. Hopefully, many more young entrepreneurs will leverage their business success into a significant social success. In my recent travels to Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay and other centers of entrepreneurship in India, I had the opportunity to see the early signs of social entrepreneurship. That is very encouraging to all of us who are in the business of change.
Before I sign off, I recently ran into the formation of a “political party” by a bunch of young IITians, namely “Bharat Punarnirman Dal”. These people are the next generation of social entrepreneurs who will take on the toughest of social and political challenges as India Inc. grows to become a real player in the world economy!
The author is the Chairman of SiliconIndia.com and MetricStream. An internet pioneer, he was the co-founder and President of WhoWhere? Inc., a Internet directory services company acquired by Lycos in 1998 as well as eGain, an online customer service company. Sinha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org