07 4 / 2013
Hey team! I need to apologize for falling behind in my duty to update this blog with interesting pictures of my adventures in India.
Sometimes I forget that the streets of Hyderabad and backwaters of Kerala are a bit more exotic than the alleys of Lincoln (Sorry, Mayor Snyder!) and Kickapoo Creek. Please accept the delay and my offer to meet you for coffee or cheesecake.
Below is a picture from one of the ruins in Hampi. It’s a beautiful place and looks like something out of the Flintstones.
Goat attack! These goats were herded through the ancient commons and led up to our sunset spot. I definitely had a flashback to all the goats at my grandparents farm when I was a child…so cute! I love kids - the furry kind, not the sticky kind.
The sunset I saw with my friend Amber and our goat friends.
This is one of the largest of the temples in Ellora Caves. The hillside runs up to the edge (upper left corner) and it feels incredibly protected and hidden. We also visited Ajanta Caves, but those pics were not so great. Please read up on these caves.
Had a bit of a close call…don’t tell Mom!
12 3 / 2013
(Side note - the phrases listed above drive me a little nuts) This is the last of the blogs from Khemka Forum. Browse the previous posts for a link to the entire report. Silliness will resume tomorrow…
In the social enterprise culture of buzzwords like “scalability” and “innovation” and “sustainability” one phrase is finally being picked apart – “impact investing.”
“In India most enterprises fill in a spectrum of zero to one hundred…it’s difficult to say this is impact investing, this is not,” says Atreya Rayaproluthe co-founder of Intellecap. He went on to say that what differentiates impact investors from angel investors is that “validation of the business model is missing” with impact investors. Sujay Santra of iKure Techsoft added that the “investor really feels and understands your objectives” when looking to invest in a social enterprise. The thinking and feeling aspects of the conversation seemed to harken to the marketing campaigns of non-profit organizations. In the world of early stage investing, however, the audience agreed that a good mission story was not enough to secure a grant or even receive first stage funding.
“A fund which is very patient” must be closely involved with the enterprise according to Dr. Martin Volgelsang of Fems3. Philanthropy can be the entry gate for investors, but eventually results will be required whether in the form of impact assessment or financial returns. No free lunches, social entrepreneurs (unless you run a sliding scale feeding program in which case, carry on!).
For many innovators that saw a problem and found a profitable solution, “social” entrepreneur is not usually a title found on their business cards. It seems that it is easier for an investor to label an entrepreneur’s work as part of a “social enterprise” which places it in a separate category for funding, evaluation matrices, and investor involvement. With the increasing herd mentality of investors, how does the title of “social enterprise” influence other investors?
For social enterprises ROPE International and ULink BioEnergy, the “social” title seems to work for them. Both businesses are supported byIntellecap, and have strong projected rates of growth in their sectors. ROPE co-founder and director N.N. Sreejith states, “social entrepreneur is a thing I am accused of” as he continues to focus on improving business processes while improving livelihoods. For ULink co-founder and directorSintanshu Sheth he was simply looking to find an answer for: “How do you cut out the middle man (regarding agricultural inputs) and pass on the discount to farmers?” Neither of these social entrepreneurs was seeking a special title or buzzword to increase their value – they saw an opportunity to fill a need and make a profit.
What if we stopped using buzzwords, and started being straightforward about the goals and objectives of our organizations? Sreejith’s artisans and Sheth’s farmers do not care about “incubating innovation” so why should we throw the phrase around too? Maybe we should stop accusing people of being “social” entrepreneurs, and just support businesses that solve problems regardless of titles or affiliations.
07 3 / 2013
(This is the second of my blog posts from the Khemka Forum on Social Enterprise. You can find the full report here.)
Why would a start-up work with their board of directors? A group of old guys with some money and more opinions is not nearly as sexy and cool as software development, business expansion, or social media marketing. The stereotypes of the board of directors fall into two groups – 1. A collection of old-fashioned, out-of-touch retirees that love to meddle in business processes and slow down decisions 2. A pack of investors bent on extracting as much profit from the company while ignoring the enterprise’s future or mission.
Thankfully, Pankaj Jain from Impact Law Ventures and Aarti Madhusudan from Governance Counts were on hand to provide some helpful hints for an audience wary of boards in their organizations. They never ignored the fact that boards are difficult for start-ups as well as established companies, but they provided some very helpful hints.
How do you design an effective board for your organization?
Well, what kind of organization are you? Non-profit or for profit, rural or urban, grassroots or established? Your board members should fit the unique needs of your organization, and insure that there are no “trust deficit issues” as Jain said. Many organizations are legally required to form a board of directors, and follow set guidelines put forth by the Indian government as well as any organizational guidelines. Selecting board members should be based on their ability to follow these laws responsibly as well as support the core mission and goals of your organization.
How do you select board members?
Madhusudan suggested hosting site visits for potential board members. Introduce them to your organization at the grassroots level. Educate them on your organization, but at the same time observe them throughout the experience. Many investors and foundations may already have reputations as board members for other organizations they have supported – do your research! If all else fails, create a probation process for potential members and a rotational process for current members. Just as ideas can become stale, so can board members….
This seems like a lot of work, do I really need to create an active board of directors?
It depends. A few names and proper paperwork from your lawyer will probably suffice, but do you treat your management in the same way? A board of directors can provide benign oversight for non-profits seeking donations, contribute funds for a growing enterprise, and safeguard the mission and values of a grassroots organization. If you can balance the passion of some board members and the competence of others you will have a powerful tool for your organization’s future.
03 3 / 2013
(As a break from my goofy posts, I am sharing a few blog entries I wrote for a social enterprise forum in November. You can see the full Khemka Forum report which includes the work of other IDEX bloggers here)
For millions of farmers throughout India, agricultural inputs are an essential part of their day-to-day existence. But what happens when these expensive inputs – from seeds to fertilizers to farming equipment – are ineffective? This discussion led by Siddharth Tata, a portfolio manager for the Acumen Fund, examined the potential for extension services throughout the Indian agricultural sector.
According to Tata, “low productivity means low income” in a country that sees agricultural productivity which is sixty times lower than that of higher-income nations. India’s productivity puts it behind the productivity levels of Pakistan and slightly ahead of Kenya in the global effort to feed a growing world population. For many farmers the farming process progresses from inputs to farm production to collections/processing to distribution to retailing. Putting Indian farmers ahead from the start of their planting season is not only a national imperative, but also a huge entrepreneurial opportunity.
(a view of farmland in the valleys around the Ellora Caves)
“The Potato Man” of India – Hemant Gaur of Siddhivinayak Agri – has started working with farmers to improve a potato crop, which has been less than successful in recent years. As an extension service provider, Gaur has found a way to bundle services thereby improving extension service offerings as well as the profitability of this work. Currently, extension service providers offer limited follow-up service due to a very small margin of profit. Gaur as well as his fellow panelists Arijit Dutta of Basix Krish and Gokul Patnaik of Katra Group, sees the potential of an effective extension service tied to improved agricultural outputs.
“My definition of extension work is relationship,” says Patnaik. Farmers must being willing to try new technologies and techniques that may contradict years of farming experience in order to see increased productivity. Patnaik has seen an increase from forty-nine tons per hectare to ninety-six tons per hectare for farmers that were willing to do “the right things at the right time.”
In order to provide these timely services to a larger number of farmers, customers need to be close together in order to share basic information. In rural India farmers can be disconnected from other members of their extension service by a few fields or many kilometers. Building communication and collaboration between farmers is a focus of the Acumen Fund as extension services see an increase in clients in various locations.
The agricultural sector is still open to any number of possibilities as technology, botany, and management skills are continually tested in a changing climate and fluctuating international market. Risk-takers exist in every sector, but farmers redefine this adrenaline pumping character trait. It is risky to race to develop the latest GPS software, but what about the risk in waiting for rain? We need to see farmers as risk taking entrepreneurs if we are going to encourage the next generation to succeed in the agriculture business.
21 1 / 2013
This short series of videos are my attempt at GIFs given limited technical resources (and even more limited amounts of patience).
1. I had this reaction when I first arrived in India and was wedged onto a bus of 70 sweaty bodies. Many of these bodies belonged to potbellied ladies with very limited spacial awareness (aka elbows to the neck and kidneys).
Now when I get on the bus…
Ok, not exactly…
2. Trying street food in my first week. I mosey up to the counter and consider my order…
BAM!!! Guys with creepy mustaches appear!
Now when I go out for lunch…(start at 29 seconds)
I’ll try to add a couple each day for the next few days. It’s amazing what happens when you live in India for over six months. Crazy is there.
11 12 / 2012
…are why the British claimed India for a while and stole its riches (at least that’s how I explained it to a teacherless VII Class that I visited). I know salt and mercantilism and whatever, but rubies and gold sounded more exciting!
India’s independence didn’t end the continued “borrowing” of India’s wealth by the West. Indian fabrics, jewelry, and designs have now become of the part of the “exotic” look sold in suburban malls and upscale boutiques.
I find this picture an interesting example of the East meets West continuum.
I think this is an interesting style choice(?) given that this photo was taken in a country which continues to be at the center of a debate on the free expression of religion. I am not to judge whether this young lady is Hindu or not, but the perception of this “stylish” bindi stands in contrast to the views of the strikingly “not-French” burqa seen in many growing neighborhoods in Paris. Please take a moment to read the comments on this photo then look up the latest news on immigration in France. Think on it and we can chat over chai (probably via skype).
Here’s another example of the Western fashion world combining with Indian traditions. I have to thank Emily from Voyage-On for sharing this video - it is a great example of the weaving and fabric traditions throughout India. Also, please note the ridiculous scenes in the textile factory…oh the lusty attraction of sweaty, overweight textile workers.
If you’re stilling looking for more Indian artistry please check out this article. The artist grew up in Hyderabad - yeah! - and has created amazing installation art in an attempt to bring contemporary art down from its elitist status.
Another organization working to making contemporary art accessible to students, teachers, and the Hyderabad community is the Daira Centre for Arts and Culture. They are supporting IDEX schools this year, and are going to host an exhibit of our students’ work! You’ll learn more about them as our exhibit date approaches. For now just remember that they are part of the Hyderabad art scene that is reaching out to students that have never stepped foot in an art gallery…exciting!