Towards heralding a million social entrepreneurs
Date: Thursday , May 31, 2007
Over the last decade, as I have personally been busy creating, building, and orchestrating various startups, each with their own views to change the world, I have come to a realization: that entrepreneurship itself needs to be democratized. As with every thing else in the world, first there were the “elite entrepreneurs” who changed the world (literally). From early innovators like Thomas Edison (creator of General Electric) and Graham Bell (founder of AT&T), to modern day pioneers like Vinod Khosla (creator of Sun Micro) and Dhirubhai Ambani (of Reliance Industries), the list goes on endlessly.
Most of these entrepreneurs and the hundreds of thousands of others who have adopted entrepreneurship as their career, either by choice or circumstances, have shared few things in common. They have in many ways combined seven key elements to create value for themselves and the society
1) An unstoppable power to dream the dreams
2) Taking advantage of some major market, technology or industry shifts
3) Ability to rally people behind them to pursue their dreams
4) A foolish willingness to fail, giving them the power to take risks.
5) Access to capital to allow them to succeed.
6) Access to entrepreneurial mentors and coaches to help them navigate the journey
7) Last but not least, ability to work hard and commit their present and future to the cause.
When I look at all the seven key elements of entrepreneurship, I believe that entrepreneurship itself is now ready to be taken to the masses, to the “long tail” of the human population, to villages and rural areas and the common folks, who are ready to make a difference for themselves and their environment.
A lot of these have become possible because of the internet, wireless communications and other technologies, which have essayed the role of the global equalizer. What I am talking about here is not anything new. People have spoken about “Microfinance”, “Village Banking”, “Banking for the poor” and related things for over a decade now. In fact Mohd. Yunus even received his “Nobel Prize” in 2006 for his work on Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and other parts of the world. Though the difference in approach here is that I truly believe in the power of entrepreneurship, combined with the leverage of capital; not the other way around as the disciplines of “finance” or “banking” might imply.
I dream of inspiring and empowering not one or two or a few tens of entrepreneurs; I would like the SiliconIndia community to help inspire, and help create a million of them in all parts of the world. In remote villages especially, this will help uplift the rural population and enable a small “fisher woman” who can, through smart entrepreneurship, multiply her income ten times; or enable the local artisan, who figures out the game of volumes and distribution reach out to the demand in the larger world. The venture could also enable the talented village school teacher, who could never reach out of her job, now create an educational micro enterprise to change the ways kids learn and grow.
In this flat world, the world of internet, cell phones, global connectivity, a world of social, professional networks like SiliconIndia.com, we are ready to take on this “Big Social Challenge”. So, how do we go about inspiring a million successful entrepreneurs and ventures throughout the villages, small towns and remote areas of our world? How do we, in the siliconIndia member community collaborate and contribute intellectually to enable such a dream become a reality?
I don’t have all the answers, but through my blog and monthly column in SiliconIndia, I would begin talking about ways and approaches to getting there collectively. This is an “open source” endeavor and I am looking for all of you to contribute through your ideas, and insights as we collectively “bootstrap” this big vision of a million entrepreneurs.
A number of startups and established companies are now beginning to look at opportunities like these for big social impact. Take a look at http://www.kiva.org or http://www.villageeef.org or Omidyar networks, Ashoka (Social Entrepreneurship Non-profit), Acumen (Socially oriented investment fund for developing countries) or Grameen Bank themselves. On top of these are non-profit MFIs (Micro Finance Institutes) or for-profit MFIs (like SKS MicroFinance in India) also doing great work on microfinance and assisting in social entrepreneurship. Even peer-to-peer micro lending ventures like www.prosper.com or www.zopa.com are enabling micro lending to village entrepreneurs.
I believe that the opportunity for true entrepreneurial success in our villages, and rural economies around the world goes far beyond just micro lending. There are three billion people in this world who earn less than $2 a day. How do we turn our internet enabled, cell phone powered “global village” into a land of equal opportunities for this three billion people, who have not begun to enjoy the benefits of modernization yet? That is the challenge I lay in front of all of you here in the SiliconIndia community.
Unlike a discourse on micro finance or micro entrepreneurship or on developmental economics, I want us all to collectively think about how to bootstrap a “social venture” to drive a million entrepreneurs to success! Let us begin to call it SiliconIndia.org.
By the time I write next month’s article, I would like all of you to think through and share your inputs on this “nice collaborative business plan” of micro entrepreneurship.
Here are some of the key aspect of this plan:
1. Leveraging the power of the SilconIndia community to make a difference in developing micro entrepreneurship in the villages.
2. Gaining access to capital to allow this SiliconIndia.org dream to become a reality. Should we go and ask all the companies in Bangalore (or Delhi or San Francisco or elsewhere) to contribute some of their stock/cash, employee time or both to help us get there as a community.
3. Chossing the right entrepreneurs from among these three billion people, who live at under $2/day so that we can collectively (through our digital knowledge network) turn them into winning entrepreneurs.
4. Identifying NGOs that we partner with locally on the ground to help these micro entrepreneurs in smaller towns and villages
5. Building the right web site to allow all of us to collaborate on this social mission.
6. Evolving is the business model for such an endeavor.
Let us make this our very own project, and my promise to all of you is that we will collectively create a successful social venture (called siliconIndia.org) that we can all take pride in and feel a sense of personal ownership.
Now let us get to work. Please reach out to me at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any interesting thoughts, ideas or if you want to volunteer or contribute. Now is the time, not next year, not next decade!