Conscience over profit? Not business as usual

July 27th, 2011 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) The nature of entrepreneurship is no longer the same. A semblance of conscience, innovation and growing desire to impact the grassroots have crept into many young Indian businesses, adding a touch of heart to the aggressive pursuit of profit.

In the popular tongue of business board rooms, this growing tribe is known as social entrepreneurs whose business has a social objective.

Ishita Khanna was born and raised in Dehradun. From childhood, she wanted to know about environment, wildlife and animals.

“My mother took my sister and me on treks and that was how my love for nature grew,” she recalled. After a masters’ dissertation in socio-cultural and ecological impact of tourism, Khanna went to Spiti in Himachal Pradesh.

Khanna now processes buckwheat berries, coordinates eco-tourism in the fragile valley through a network of homestays and nature treks with community support. Her non-profit group-cum-business Ecosphere makes a nominal profit.

“In a social enterprise, you solve an old problem in a new way and make it saleable. The solutions have to be sustainable and use resources at your disposal,” Rashmi Bansal, a writer, entrepreneur and youth affairs expert, told IANS.

Bansal, the author of books “Stay Hungry” and “Connect the Dots”, said “not everyone can be a social entrepreneur”.

“The call has to come from within you. One has to have commitment. For the first 8 to 10 years, you have to understand the situation. The motto is to dream big and start small,” she said.

Bansal’s new book, “I Have a Dream” (Westland Ltd) is an anthology of 20 idealists who think and act like entrepreneurs but are committed to different causes.

Rangasutra, a grassroots crafts and textile producers’ company operating with 1,060 poor artisans in Barmer, Jaisalmer and Bikaner, supplies embroidered and printed textiles to lifestyle products chain Fabindia.

“The company has a four-way shareholding,” said co-owner Sumita Ghose, widow of the slain Majuli-based social activist Sanjoy Ghose. Sumita has 20 percent stake, Fabindia has 30 percent stake, co-owner Vineet Rai of Aavishkaar has 23 percent and Rangasutra has 27 percent.

“Initially the producers - the poor weavers and craftspeople - did not have money. So they would buy shares for Rs.500. But they were very enthusiastic about owning shares,” Ghose said. The business touched Rs.4 crore in 2009.

“There are human beings with the right to dignity and a minimum wage,” says entrepreneur and environmental activist Anita Ahuja of her motivation to start Conserve India in 1998. Conserve India works with recycled waste and ragpickers, who flock to the capital from across the world.

Ahuja has a portfolio of more than 200 types of accessories made from waste material which sell even in Europe. “What’s more, every worker in Conserve gets a salary of Rs.4,000 plus perks,” she said.

The company’s revenues are expected to touch Rs.5 crore this year.

Bansal said: “I recently met Aditya Natraj whom I counselled 18 years ago. He is an MBA and runs the Kaivalya Education Foundation, a forum which trains principals of government schools.”

“It also offers fellowships to youths called the Gandhi Fellowship,” she said, adding that “it was also becoming a fashion statement among the youth”.

AIESEC, one of the world’s oldest and the biggest global students’ networks, organised its first Delhi business forum - “Youth to Business 2011″ here Tuesday, oriented to social entrepreneurship in collaboration with Ericsson.

“We identified three young aspiring social entrepreneurs to set them up in business with the help of our partners like Ericsson, Nasscom, United Nations Information Centre and several others,” AIESEC’s Delhi president Anubhav Razdan said.

“Social entrepreneurship is also connected to leadership. It helps inculcate leadership qualities and allows the entrepreneurs to reach out,” AIESEC’s external affairs cell vice-president Dhruv Gupta said.

Social entrepreneurship forums are sprouting across the country.

Mumbai-based Sankalp Forum and Chennai-based Villgro for example draw out hundreds of entrepreneurs from the country’s rural heartlands and small towns with innovative ideas to incubate business.

However, noted business writer and corporate honcho Upendra Kachru said that “at the grassroots level, India is poorly equipped”.

“To convert the inventions into innovations you need the necessary infrastructure. Funding at the primary level through venture capital is totally absent in India,” he said.

“Limited funding takes place only after the inventor has a business model that has proven successful. And Indian businesses are less prone to risk-taking,” he added.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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