Since its launch in 2011, Villgro has identified and assisted approximately 2,000 social innovators and positively impacted the lives of more than 360,000 people living in rural India. The organization's strength lies in finding innovators and entrepreneurs, providing skill development and critical access to networks and other resources necessary to take their innovations to the marketplace. Critical to its continued success is the ability to connect with more homegrown geniuses just waiting to be discovered in every corner of India.
Villgro's annual Unconvention plays a significant role in this respect - it's billed as the ONLY conference in India that specifically focuses on social entrepreneurs and looks at the overlap between innovation AND social entrepreneurship.
With just a few days left before the third Villgro Unconvention kicks off in Chennai (Dec. 1-3), I had the opportunity to chat with Sucharita Kamath, the head of Villgro's Innovation Ecosystem, to get a behind-the-scenes look at what attendees can expect from the conference this year and what the future holds for the Unconvention itself. (She also advised me that spaces are filling up quickly, so register today - Next Billion readers get a 30 percent discount here: enter nxtbill).
NextBillion.net: What was the inspiration behind launching the Unconvention?
Kamath: At the point we launched Unconvention in 2009, there was no other significant platform that brought the different players in the social enterprise ecosystem in India together and this was an ask we were hearing loud and clear from many of our networks in the sector. Unconvention was intended to be the place where people in the sector took time out to meet, discuss and learn from each other; a place "where PathMakers met PathBreakers" and where ideas could be clarified and action taken to find solutions to India's most pressing problems.
NextBillion.net: What makes this event so different from other conferences? And what can attendees expect this year that will be different from previous events?
Kamath: This year's tag line is "Learn-Share-Do;" and the focus is very much on DOING. Based on extensive feedback collected from past attendees, a clear gap identified in other conferences was that the doing component was missing. While conferences are a good place to network and learn, post-event there isn't much action that takes place. This year, the structure of the sessions is intended to make that action happen. Furthermore, clear goals will be set for the coming year and reported back on at Unconvention 2013.
NextBillion.net: This year's unconvention has a focus on talent, with 'speed dating' events planned for job seekers and mentorship. Why do you think this is a particular challenge for so many ventures?
Kamath: Our initial sense of it is that one reason is the lack of information that many people looking for jobs have about this sector. We are hoping that by coming to Unconvention at least they key questions will have been answered and that they can take the conversations ahead from here. On the other side, social enterprises are so bootstrapped for time that they are not sure where to look for this talent. Hopefully the sessions will highlight some additional reasons and I will be able to answer this question much better post Unconvention!
NextBillion.net: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing social entrepreneurs in India today?
Kamath: What we have heard from the ground are the following:
1. Access to talent
2. Access to capital
3. Original research in the sector that can be used to build the sector's case in the market
4. Standard impact assessment methodologies and standards
5. Few examples of enterprises that have achieved scale to act as role models
6. A robust sector body and policy influencer
The Unconvention this year is looking to address points 1,2,3 and 5 through the various sessions:
1: the break out sessions on Talent and Volunteering
2: the investor forum specifically targets this segment
3: the research roundtable
5: the business model mainstreaming sessions and the Villgro awards
NextBillion.net: What are you most looking forward to at this year's conference?
Kamath: We are actually looking forward to next steps on the various action points that will be decided at this conference. In a sense, Unconevntion is just the starting point. Unconvention 2013 will be structured in an innovative new way to ensure there is ongoing work on the action points so we can report back on some concrete action taken and on the value actually created for the sector.