Hult Prize PAN India was launched to help students from India participate in the world’s largest global competition and solve some of the world’s most pressing social issues. Bipul Saha (BS) is the Hult Prize Campus Director at IIM-Ahmedabad. He plays a pivotal role in bringing this event to India and is the chief organiser of the event, managing it from end to end. In this article I ask him about his comments on new trends in social entrepreneurship in India.
Q: As the campus director for Hult Prize at IIM-A, you must be meeting several budding social entrepreneurs filled with energy and ideas. Can you discuss some key trends you have observed?
BS: A large number of budding social entrepreneurs I have met want to solve problems related to the Indian labour market. In the coming decade, 13 million Indians per year will enter the workforce for the first time. However, India’s economy is only creating an additional 5.5 million organized sector jobs per year, enough to accommodate less than half of the annual new entrants. Most of these new entrants have not undergone any formal skill training. Most of the entrepreneurs I have talked to are trying to connect supply and demand in the labour market by developing a low-cost tech platform or developing solutions to provide them skill training. Some are even finding ways to provide them credit to start their own business, quite different from the way micro-finance companies operate. I think addressing the problems relating to labour market has caught the attention of many is primarily because in urban areas it is a widespread problem and many of the entrepreneurs I have met are from Tier-1 cities.
Clean-tech is another sector which is catching-up. Waste recycling in innovative ways which reduce energy consumption is being researched upon by some entrepreneurs. However with regards to sectors such as healthcare and agriculture ideas have been few.
Several teams who had presented their ideas during the Hult Prize PAN India round were extremely enthusiastic about their ideas and had worked hard to think through the minute details of the business models. They were well researched and were genuinely interested in solving a social problem. Teams from engineering colleges especially IIT-Kharagpur had contacted a large number of people from the BOP to understand the problem and make a product which caters to their needs whereas other teams had developed a solution first and had then test-marketed their idea to figure out if it fits the needs of the intended audience.
Q: How does the Hult Prize panel assess ideas and what kind of an idea is most likely to win the Hult Prize?
BS: Every year the Hult Prize Global Board along with Former US President Bill Clinton decide on a global social issue which needs immediate action. The scorecard is then designed keeping in mind the issue being addressed as each is unique. This year teams had been asked to create sustainable, scalable, fast growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people living in “Crowded Urban Spaces” by 2022 through better connecting people, goods, services and capital. Rapid urbanization has created billions of urban poor struggling to live a quality life. This year’s challenge wanted teams to come up with innovative ideas to solve the problem of crowded urban spaces.
The panel is provided with a detailed scorecard which helps them assess the idea. The criteria for this year included the following: alignment with the challenge, impact the business will have, feasibility – technical and commercial, disruptiveness – novel and revolutionary ideas are encouraged and scalability. In my experience, if there is one criteria which the judges give paramount importance to – it is impact. The idea should benefit the target group in a big way and should have a broad economic participation. Also, the judges assess the team’s capability extremely carefully.
The full details of the judging criteria are not disclosed to the teams, as the idea is not to limit their creativity. Teams are recommended to consider the guiding questions given to them along with the challenge for further direction.
Any idea which addresses the five criteria mentioned above reasonably well is likely to win the Hult Prize. For example, the 2014 Hult Prize winner ‘Nano Health’ solved the problem of under-diagnosis, poor treatment and poor prescription compliance in India by offering a cost-effective and scalable model to tackle the growing burden of chronic diseases in urban slum locations across the world. Their Doc-in-a-Bag product allows the rapid and accurate diagnosis of illness to take place on-site and cheaply, thus preventing the patient from having to visit the doctor at all unless diagnosed. Patients no longer have to make the difficult choice between taking a day or more off of work or paying expensive doctor’s fees and improving their health.
Q: Social enterprises in India face acute shortage of right talent and thus are deprived of the best business management practices that is often easily affordable to commercial companies. What do you think can be a solution to this problem?
BS: It’s true that social enterprises don’t get the right talent primarily because of low compensation, rural location and lack of awareness about the benefits of social entrepreneurship. But this situation is fast changing. Leading B-schools in the country like IIM-A, offer electives on social entrepreneurship to generate awareness about this sector. This will help the youth of India understand the problems of the masses and devise sustainable business models which can help them. Such courses should be offered at an undergraduate level also, and a basic course can be offered to high school students in the country. The need of the hour is to generate awareness about this sector so that students consider this as a viable career option.
Also, management development programs are offered by B-schools to teach working professionals about the best management practices. Several thousand employees of different companies in India enroll in such programs. These programs can be easily extended to cover social enterprises and NGOs so that they too can learn and later apply the best business management practices. Although there is no restriction on social enterprises and NGOs to enroll in such programs but often cost is the major hindrance which restricts participation. Subsidies can be offered by the B-schools or government organisations to increase participation.
The number of social enterprises offering internships or full-time positions to students at the undergraduate or post-graduate level is too low, for students to consider it as a viable job opportunity. This problem can only be resolved in a reasonably long time frame. As the number of social enterprises increases in India employment opportunities in this sector will increase in India and will gain popularity. As it gains popularity more and more students will be interested in joining this sector. But this will take time, and I expect in the next 5-10 years a flurry of social enterprises recruiting students in large numbers from the top institutes in the country. If this happens, the best management professionals and engineers will help drive this sector forward changing the lives of millions in India.
I think generating awareness regarding social entrepreneurship among the youth is the biggest challenge in this country. This is the precise reason why the Hult Prize Pan India Initiative was launched. An exclusive Hult Prize India event targeted the top institutes in the country in a bid to help young social entrepreneurs start their own ventures and improve the lives of millions in India. The Hult Prize PAN India Initiative witnessed more than 300 innovative social business ideas from India’s top institutes in response to this year’s challenge. This was the largest social entrepreneurship competition to be ever held in India, and in the next few years the goal is to have students from the entire Indian subcontinent to participate in this competition.
Me: All the best Bipul!
BS: Thanks Rohan for inviting me as a guest blogger on Creatively Unsettled.