How the Deshpande Foundation is hoping to change social entrepreneurship in India

The Master's in Social Entrepreneurship is the flagship program of Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship in affiliation with Karnataka University. It's a two-year full time residential program designed to enhance entrepreneurial mindsets among today's youngsters, with an aim to create the next generation of business leaders.

Naveen Jha, CEO, Deshpande Foundation talks to Firstbiz about the course and social entrepreneurship in its present day form.

Firstbiz: What prompted the Deshpande Foundation to design a Master's program in social entrepreneurship?

Naveen Jha: We have a centre in Ohio focused on technological innovation. We thought of similar things we could do in Hubli to create impact and social innovation for India. So we launched the Hubli Sandbox ecosystem in Northwest Karnataka that works on a typical Silicon Valley thought process - basically an environment where innovative approaches to addressing social challenges are encouraged.

We soon realized that for such organisations to grow you need entrepreneurial people - those who enjoy uncertainty and can take risks and who love working in a startup mode. In the past ten years we've seen that there are very few people engaging in social entrepreneurship or non-profit space. To solve India's problems of healthcare, education, sanitation we need people with an entrepreneurial mindset who can create new ideas. We've been building up this ecosystem in Hubli and so thought that a good master's program will help people engage with these organisations.

Our students have access to several social enterprises within a five kilometres radius in Hubli with whom they can intern and this provides an excellent learning forum. Our first batch launched in 2012. The first batch is exiting now and admissions for the third batch, starting July 2014, are currently on. This year we have got permission from the government to expand the batch size to 40 from 20.

FB: Can you tell us a bit about the admission criteria and what the course entails?

Jha: We have an online examination as part of selection process followed by an interview. We try to assess why a person wants to work in the social sector and carefully select people.

We've got students from various backgrounds like engineering, e-commerce and more. The course is made up four semesters.

In the first semester we focus on building skill sets - financial accounting, writing a case study, costing, design survey et al. In the second and third semester we shift focus to their understanding of different sectors. In the last they work on a business plan and structuring a business from legal aspects as well.

We have guest speakers periodically (including successful social entrepreneurs), visits to various social organizations and we have a B-Plan competition too. At the end of the course they can seek incubation at the Deshpande Foundation. Seven students from our first two batches are currently working on their ideas. However, everyone has a job offer and we are working with 156 organizations that are all looking for people aggressively.

FB: How many social enterprises does the country have?

Jha: In my network itself I know 6,000-7,000 enterprises with a for-profit arm. We see maximum ideas in livelihood and agri-business followed by education and then healthcare.

FB: What are the popular models adopted by them?

Jha: There are four models: First pay-per-use for a service, then hybrid model with a for-profit and non-profit arm where 60-70 percent of costs are managed with donations.

The third where your program gets synchronized with government schemes and you become a part of it. Finally, broad based charity. In Hubli we've demonstrated that all four models are scalable.

FB: Is the younger generation enthused with prospects of social entrepreneurship?

Jha: Yes. We see people getting into it post-graduation. In the last couple of years India has seen the young generation talking about good things they want to do. They want to be active for the benefit of society.

FB: What are the reasons for this?

Jha: The emergence of organizations like Villgro, Aavishkar, Ashoka, Susan Dell Foundation, and us, who've been talking a different language for the last four-five years and have helped educate people about social entrepreneurship.

FB: Some people are of the view that entrepreneurship requires inherent skill sets that people are born with andcannot be taught?

Jha: This is an academic discussion. Of course it can't be taught per se. But how will anyone know if they have entrepreneurial skills unless there is a process to help them realize their own entrepreneurial energy?

That ecosystem is critical - only then can a person know if they're an innovator or can take risks. So far our hit rate has been 10-15 percent as far as those who want to become entrepreneurs while the remainder have a more intra-preneurial bent of mind.

FB: Where do current challenges for social ventures lie?

Jha: Parents don't see this space as a full-time option for their children. I spend a lot of time convincing parents. Second, lots of challenges in the legal arena - we have cumbersome processes just to register a firm and the corruption that's part of it. Thirdly, there is a lack of mentorship for entrepreneurs, especially in tier 2 and 3 cities.

I'm mentoring 23 social ventures directly and about 70-80 loosely in other domains. It's huge pressure for mentors to handle this volume. There are lots of people in the for-profit side, however, it's scarce in non-profit.

Updated Date: Jun 22, 2014 15:18 PM