Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reaching Social Entrepreneurs in India’s Hinterland

Recent years have seen the growth of many ‘ecosystem platforms’ for social entrepreneurs, which enable the entrepreneurs to access financial, technical and network support – thus accelerating the growth of entrepreneurship in the country. While these initiatives have helped mainstreaming entrepreneurship, they still reach to largely urban – or to well-established – entrepreneurial ventures. The challenge to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem is: how does one reach countless small and fledgling entrepreneurial ventures in India’s small towns and rural hinterland?

The following are some stray thoughts on this:

·         Go Vernacular, Become “Unprofessional”: Language, and the professionally designed templates and formats (ppts, xls sheets, etc.) to access the ecosystem resources, remain one of the major entry barriers to the existing ecosystem platforms for many grassroot entrepreneurs. Large number of grassroot entrepreneurs are neither conversant with English, nor have the capabilities of showcasing their work through the templates, which are required to be used to seek entry/support into the ecosystem. Reaching them would require building-in vernacular languages, and more intuitive interfaces, into the ecosystem platforms.

·         Search, Identify and Showcase: A critical challenge in reaching the grassroot entrepreneurs is how to identify them. By their very nature and location, they remain “invisible” on the radar of existing ecosystem platforms. If the ecosystem platforms have to reach them, then it will be necessary to initiate processes (e.g., contests, citizen journalists’ forums, etc.) which help identifying them – and showcasing them on existing media channels (e.g., The Better India, Weekend Leader, Your Story, or even FB pages, etc.).

·         Connect – Create Partnerships: Grassroot entrepreneurs mostly operate in isolation, concerned mainly with the community/segment they serve. As a result, not only they lack access to sources of funding and technical advice, their own innovations are lost to the rest of entrepreneurial community. The challenge of developing a vibrant ecosystem would be to create platforms which allow entrepreneurs to connect with others, and find complementary partners.

·         Converge ‘Ecosystem Platforms’: One very positive development in the entrepreneurial space during last couple of years has been the emergence of many robust ecosystem platforms (e.g., Mahindra’s Spark the Rise, Intellecap’s Sankalp Forum, Villgro’s Unconvention, etc.). Similarly initiatives such as Be! Fund, BYST, etc., provide funding mentoring and technical support to entrepreneurs from the marginalized segments. These initiatives to build the entrepreneurial ecosystems, however, still operate as independent silos. A convergence and coordination among these can bring out the synergy and increase the reach to the grassroot entrepreneurs.
[ps: I had written this about a couple of months back for "Spark the Rise Meet-up" in Delhi (Sept 1, 2012. Since then one convergence has happened: Intellecap's Sankalp and Villgro's Unconvention have formed a strategic partnership to do on main conference in Mumbai in April, and to do many mini-meets in smaller towns.]