The excitement of solving difficult systemic problems coupled with the satisfaction of working closely with communities to achieve tangible progress outweigh other kinds of returns for these entrepreneurs.
Namya Mahajan (co-founder – Rocket Learning) and Tarun Cherukuri (co-founder and CEO of Indus Action) have a lot in common: an academic track record involving premier institutions like the Harvard Business School and BITS Pilani, lucrative career opportunities that came their ways in their 20s and in the recent years, a burning passion to solve education inequality in India. Their stories are indicative of a larger pattern that is taking shape in the nation: more and more youth giving up conventional and lucrative jobs to take on social entrepreneurship. Is there more to this transition than just one’s value system and a fierce determination to create real impact on-ground?
Their drive for creating an equitable society finds its resonance in the vision for ‘Amrit-Kaal’ wherein a prosperous, digitally savvy and well-governed nation will be catalyzed in the next 25 years through joint action. The youth have been identified as important drivers of the objectives of the Amrit Kaal vision through their determination and capacity for self-realization. Young social entrepreneurs today possess a strong bias for action complemented by the relentless pursuit of understanding a problem in all its complexity. The excitement of solving difficult systemic problems coupled with the satisfaction of working closely with communities to achieve tangible progress far outweigh any other kind of returns.
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In the case of Namya and Tarun, the desire to create a more equitable world, and the imperative to effect irreversible impact in the lives of vulnerable communities, respectively, has served as a strong driving force for their initiatives. Social entrepreneurs constitute a breed of individuals who are visionary in their ability to challenge conventional wisdom surrounding institutional models. They are part of a larger philanthropic movement that is driven to build and invest in bolder solutions to difficult problems in India and bring the nation closer to its developmental targets. The sector is currently eliciting both financial and non-financial support from individual donors, existing business leaders who are gradually transitioning into leadership in the space, as well as self-made entrepreneurs who are committed to transforming lives across the nation.
This movement is filling in two critical gaps within the sector : a) the financing gap and b) the talent gap. A 2022 report by Bridgespan and The Bain Company observes that the Grants allocated towards Indian NGOs are either short term or insufficient. Eighty-six percent of the grants disbursed fall below the US$ 67,000 (INR 55 lakh) mark and 83 percent of the grants only have a duration of one year. The same period saw the edtech sector gain as much as US$ 2.64 billion (INR 20 crore) in funding despite the impact of the pandemic. The question of sustainable funding for the sector is gradually being addressed by the investments of these change makers as well as evolving models such as blended financing. The hiring and retention of quality talent has always been a challenge for the sector. However, perceptions surrounding social sector jobs are slowly changing for the better and more top talent can be expected to make their way into social entrepreneurship.
There are multiple sectors that stand to gain from the drive and expertise of young social entrepreneurs. Education, for instance, is one among them with the pandemic having brought about many significant changes. The total number of schools have declined to 14.9 lakh in 2021-22 as against the 2013-14 count of 15.2 lakh. As many as 1.1 million schools do not have access to internet connectivity and there is a shortage of teachers by 1 million, as documented by UNESCO. Although enrolment rates have increased to 26.5 crore in FY22, there is still much ground to cover in terms of the loss of learning that occurred during the pandemic. Disparities in grade-level foundational literacy and numeracy also persist, as does the limited accessibility to quality education in rural areas and the student dropouts that occur as a result of infrastructural gaps. The complexity of this predicament reveals that there are multiple intersectional factors that need to be comprehended and addressed through both individualized and sweeping entrepreneurial initiatives.
Social entrepreneurs, with their drive and solutions, can help expand existing governmental programmes to vulnerable demographic groups or push for policy action. Working closely with local communities to develop a complex understanding of the concerns at hand, and facilitating progress on-ground are key. Adequately supporting these young visionaries with the appropriate resources and institutional mechanisms is the need of the hour. The time is ripe for the social sector ecosystem at large to strategize both financial and non-financial methods by which the ventures of young entrepreneurs can be sustained over the years.
Original and truly path-breaking innovations are built on an intersectional understanding of the unique problems faced by diverse target communities. Creating a research-led environment to help social entrepreneurs design the appropriate mechanisms and upskill is the need of the hour. Opening the appropriate channels of funding for India-led social innovation can greatly influence the scale of deployment. This would require challenging long-held perceptions of returns and progress within the sector.
The sheer diversity of talent making their way into this vibrant ecosystem brings with them a lot of promise and potential. While their principles and unshakeable focus on creating sustainable impact leads them to develop creative solutions, supporting them with the appropriate resources is an opportunity for the ecosystem at large. It is through such an endeavour that the many Namyas and Taruns of the Indian social entrepreneurship ecosystem take flight and put India on the path towards being an inclusive and developed economy by 2047.