Educational Apathy and Student Biases Towards Social Entrepreneurship As A Career
Ordinarily For-Profit Social Entrepreneurship as a subject in business studies and a career option among students has yet a long way to go in India. The ‘Profit’ or ‘Scale’ aspect is still not given serious attention when thinking of social impact initiatives. The focus is more on understanding the problem from a societal perspective and attempting to solve it at a local level. Sustainability of local solutions is thus often overlooked in the altruistic zeal to do something good for the deprived sections of the society.
Most of the business studies in India do have a subject on social welfare management or social entrepreneurship as an elective. The institutes have compulsory internship courses with NGOs and other mostly Non-profit organisations. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is most often looked at as a source of funding in these studies.
“However these courses are mainly to sensitise the students of the socio-economic problems of a large section of deprived people in our society. There is hardly any emphasis on making it a career choice or an enterprise with commercial viability to impact a social cause effectively. Not only that. Surprisingly students attach an age tag with social entrepreneurship. They think it is to be considered only when a professional is established in life in the age bracket of 45 and onward or post retirement. End of the day the aim of business studies is providing job or seeking job both at the business schools end and the students,” shares Dr Veni Nair, the Assistant Director and Associate Professor at ITM Business School, Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.
Dr Chandan Singh Adhikari, the Dean, Academics, at ITM, Kharghar, Navi Mumbai seconds the reality of business studies,” All business studies are placement-centric. Students are only interested to get a corporate job. They want to earn well, move on in life and enjoy first. Hardly a fraction of students, that too mostly from business families join entrepreneurship – mostly commercial entrepreneurship. Taking up social entrepreneurship as a career is the furthest thing in their mind, although they like the idea of serving a social cause as a philanthropic activity.”
A chat with a few students of various business schools revealed the pain-point in their career pursuit and why they do not think of social entrepreneurship as a career choice.
“Most of us come from middle class families and we have funded our education with an education loan. Hence our primary goal is to land up a job just after passing out with a steady income and pay off the loan”, says a PG student who did not wish to be identified.
Another student says, “We are answerable to our families. We have family pressures to get a safe job and not to venture into the risky path of entrepreneurship in the early stage of our career. Social entrepreneurship hardly makes any sense at this point in our lives as a career choice.”
It was quite disheartening to find some MBA students having no clue at all about what does a for-profit social entrepreneurship mean.
Dr R Gopal, Director, Dean and Head of Business Management at D.Y. Patil University School of Business Management, Navi Mumbai too reiterated the same point as the other educationists cited above that the primary objective of studying MBA is to get a job.
However he differed on the idea of profit vs social good. “It depends on the DNA of the organisation and its founders – how do they wish to create a social impact irrespective of profit, no profit or marginal profit. We have seen some non-profit NGOs are doing very good work on a sustained basis whereas many big PSUs have failed.”
Prof Radha Iyer of K.J.Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research informs that the incubator at her institute Research Innovation Incubation Design Labs (RIIDL) supports all entrepreneurial ideas including ideas on social entrepreneurship. However she also observes that although 70% student are aware of social entrepreneurship for profit, hardly any one of them joins it as a career. “Less than ten alumni who have had an exposure to social entrepreneurship, work with not for profit organizations in senior management positions and are engaged as mentors for social entrepreneurial organizations. But having been exposed to social entrepreneurship, many actively engage in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects of their organizations,” says Prof Radha Iyer.
She goes on to add that “Social entrepreneurs certainly need business graduates and post graduates to ensure growth, build scale & bring professionalism in their organizations.”
However the reality is hardly any social entrepreneurship organisations visit the campuses of business schools for recruitment. Funding is the core issue that deters them from hiring business graduates and post graduates.
This indicates a huge gap between the need and supply of professionals to run social enterprises effectively.
We Need To Think About It Differently
When it comes to include a profit model albeit different from exclusively commercial ventures, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ronnie Screwwala believes, “It’s (also) important to not segregate social and impact businesses from normal businesses as I am a firm believer that in India, all impact has to be at ‘scale’ and for us to be able to deliver at scale — it needs to not be looked like a subsidised approach — but should be for profit but with impact.”
IIM Calcutta is doing just that.
The institute that had launched a national-level contest on social entrepreneurship in collaboration with the Tata Group called the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge (TSEC) in 2012-13, has now launched two more initiatives under the banner ‘Thinking Social’ in the past year.
“We are committed to supporting ‘for-profit’ social enterprises which can solve some challenging social problems”, said Ashok Banerjee, director of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park.
IIMC plans to incubate 10 social enterprises per year for the next four years, and would provide seed fund and mentor-ship support.
“The social sector is a very vibrant space for managers. My course on Inclusive Business Models has met with enthusiastic response from students and is usually oversubscribed,” said Sourav Mukherji, dean of Academic Programmes at IIMB.
Hult Prize India, a non-profit organisation provides students from universities across the nation an opportunity to compete and win USD 1 Million in seed funding for their sustainable, innovative big-impact social business ideas that aim at addressing the most compelling challenges affecting billions of people.
P.R. Ganapathy, COO of Villgro, also says, “Traditional ways to address these problems – government programs and NGOs – lack efficiency and innovation. NGOs have struggled to attract talent, and to scale. I really believe that social enterprise is a way by which we can get some of our best and brightest minds engaged with our society’s more serious problems – and that’s the only way we can solve them. That’s because it gives these people an opportunity to do good, and at the same time earn and reasonable living and create wealth for themselves and their employees.
Support and funding is available; we just need more people to heed the call, and take the plunge. We need more people to stop whining about what’s wrong with our society and to stand up and do something.”
This trend has in part been driven by the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. Many professionals started to look for a new form of capitalism. They discovered that social enterprises can provide a business model that is both with a social good purpose and profitable. As a result, they are coming up with all kinds of new business ideas that take on the social goals of a non-profit organization, with the business goals of a for profit one. Be it for healthcare delivery problems in Africa, education delivery to the rural and migrant poor of Bangladesh and Pakistan, delivery of critical agricultural development services in rural Myanmar – the new hybrid, non-profit/for profit type organizations are springing up around the world that are making a real difference in people’s lives, while also generating profits for investors.
Social Entrepreneurship as a career needs a huge thrust from all the stakeholders, from government to educational institutes, to rein in sustainable and scalable social impact in India at the hands of the new generation business graduates.