Need of the hour: Social Innovation

 

I came across this on Sir Richard Branson’s blog: “I’ve always felt that social impact and profitability are two sides of the same coin. The most successful businesses are prosperous because they offer products and services that make tangible, positive differences in people’s lives (without destroying the planet or causing more harm to others, of course),” Richard says. “Viewed through this lens, social impact is a powerful selling proposition.”

Building Aqaya as a social enterprise has taught me lessons that I’d like to share.

  • Most people will discount all your hard-work just because your aim is social impact, but your idea can appeal to the rare audience- a small, select group that is fueled by the same ambition as you, to create prosperity and empowerment for others. Find them, early on, if you really want to pursue the idea long-term.
  • The needs of the communities, especially in the rural areas, are vast. I went in thinking I would train artisans to make beautiful garments, help them earn higher and thus improve the quality of their lives. But no, as I spent more time, I realized much broader needs such as lack of electricity and resources to allow them to spend their time at trainings. Thus, Aqaya’s model has been evolving, we are testing prototypes for NFC technology, renewable energy and organizing programs for awareness on health issues and organic farming. Given Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the basics of life missing from their lives, would not allow them to indeed be happier- thus Aqaya Source Foundation needed to elevate to a level of becoming a holistic provider for its communities.
  • As I increased my buyers’ list and got more artisans on-board, the model’s need for technological disruption dramatically shot up. Training their family members in computers was the first step, but I needed to do more than that. The question that has been on my mind for more than a year: How do I bridge the gap and make knowledge and opportunity accessible on a massive scale? Hence, the need to find exponential solutions- we’ve decided to take the NFC route to empower communities with resources once they get connected and online. As the prediction goes, there will be an additional 3-5 Billion people online by 2020, and through ASF we’re working on finding ways to cater to them.
  • Our training programs need to be made into educational content for our artisans. With advancements such as smartphones for INR 251 and RJio, it presents immense opportunity to bring awareness about possibilities to them. Earlier, I could show them YouTube videos, now I can bring the world to them. This is amazing. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. As I stay on my path to social innovation, several other factors are making it easier for me to find solutions. That’s what social entrepreneurs need to make use of: their macro-environment. Stay up to date, use new information and rapid iteration. Try, test, if it fails- move on, try something new. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring digitization to the communities. Possibly with NFC chips that could connect consumers to artisans or through selling platforms that promote artisans, or through educational content that bridges that gap- I’m testing, trying and experimenting.
  •  Influencing the whole value chain, instead of focusing on one entity. To sensitize the market and the average consumer, the respect for artisan crafts is needed. I could not have kept on producing without the consumers willing to buy from me. Making artisans and their crafts relatable to the consumers was more important than manufacturing the designs. Lionizing and championing artisans who do the work has helped, describing the plight of the producers certainly helped- but it’s an ongoing process.
  • I’m reading Krishnamurthi’s work which talks about how self-concern is what motivates every single one of us. Pursuing a social enterprise idea might be satisfying and rewarding to you, but ultimately it is self-concern, that drives all of us. Be honest about your motivations- yes you can make your idea very profitable, but social entrepreneurship moves rather slow compared to other tech-starups. You won’t raise millions in funding right away, for investors are mostly impact-averse. If the motivation isn’t real, you will give up for the road is longer, harder, rougher- so if your idea really doesn’t reward you or bring you internal satisfaction, move on to something that does. Don’t half-heart anything, give it your best while you’re at it.
  • If you’re still willing to go ahead, congratulations- it will be a hell of a ride. Keep striving.

“You have an advantage over many of your competitors: the excitement and goodwill of customers who will support your ideas.”

In my daily meditations, I channelize some version of this: “I function from a place of service and surrender. I trust the timing of life and seek to be a source of love, abundance and service.” 🙂

 

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