Bhavna Toor and Abhishek Hegde

For Piramal Fellows, Innovation Comes Naturally

Editor’s Note: The Piramal Fellowship for Sustainable Business is an opportunity for aspiring business and community leaders to engage where business and social impact intersect. Fellows are placed in leadership roles with for-profit businesses designed for social and environmental change. The Fellowship builds on-the-job managerial and entrepreneurial skills. Click here to find out more and to apply to become a Piramal Fellow. The following are reflections from Piramal Fellows, Bhavna Toor and Abhishek Hegde.


By Bhavna Toor

An opportunity to exercise leadership where it is needed most? Check. An opportunity to gain an intimate perspective on the challenges facing the millions of lives social enterprises are trying to impact? Check. An opportunity to learn first-hand from the social entrepreneurs and change-makers that are defining the social enterprise landscape in a country as vast, diverse, and complex as India? Check. An opportunity for unparalleled personal growth? Check. This is the mental check-list that I went through when I first made the decision to apply for the Piramal Fellowship last year. Reflecting back on the first half of my journey, I can honestly say I have gained all that I had hoped to from this experience and more.

I was brought on as a fellow with Idiom Design & Consulting, where my project is to come up with an innovative financing model to extend design thinking to social enterprises. The philosophical bedrock of the project is the notion of “design democracy” – that design thinking need not be a luxury that only big businesses can afford, but it can and should be made accessible to social enterprises where indeed it can be a powerful catalyst for growth. With significant background in finance but zero knowledge of design, my project presents a delicious challenge! It was at Idiom that I would first learn about the concept of design thinking, which goes deeper than simply designing better products and services for the base of the pyramid, and gets to the very heart of designing entire systems and business models that most effectively serve under-served populations.

Over the past nine months, I have travelled to more than 20 cities, small towns and villages. In Orissa, I worked with Paul Polak, founder of Spring Health, to help design solutions for clean drinking water for untouchable communities where access is constrained not just by market forces, but also by social norms. I went on a 10-day road-trip across the heartland of India, to interview and capture on film the dreams of 200+ ordinary Indians for their own lives and their country as part of Idiom’s Dream-In project. When not on the road, my days are otherwise spent in sunny Bangalore, which is fast becoming a hotbed for social innovation.

The most important part of this fellowship has been the nature of the fellowship itself. When faced with challenges, and there are challenges galore, be it working in an unstructured environment or simply missing loved-ones back home, the camaraderie and support of the fellow fellows has carried us through.

Here’s looking forward to the next half of the fellowship with renewed vigor, purpose and commitment to carry forth our tasks of enabling social enterprises to effectively address the most pressing social problems around us!

A Reflection

By Abhishek Hegde

Social enterprises embody unique set of characteristics which require them to bring together everything we consider good in the society, constantly building invisible bridges to connect people, resources and dreams, and at all times have immense belief in their abilities to affect change.

My last one year with the Piramal fellowship has been a journey of self discovery inspired by the will to contemplate learning from conventional wisdom, to see my work as part of Digital Green where I have been seconded as a Piramal fellow impact lives of more than 2,00,000 people has gone a long way to silence the skeptic in me who constantly questions the sustainability of such heroic pursuits. In my role as program manager-strategy and operations at Digital Green, I endeavour to bring to life ideas that support the sustainability of small and marginal farmers in rural India through innovative financial models and, information and communication technologies.

The joy of seeing tears drop down on the cheeks of poor Indian farmers as they set sight on to their green fields with a sense of pride and renewed hope has been a life changing experience for me, the challenges in bringing to life such transformation requires us to nurture change both internal and external to the organization, constantly questioning the status-quo to device solutions which redefine risk, resource utilization and accountability.

Today, more than ever before, there is a need to develop sustainable market based solutions to address some of the most pressing problems of society; the established players in the social sector as well as the novices dabbling with ideas for social change are fighting to reinvent themselves to impact lives of millions of people in developing countries like India. This paradigm shift provides for a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in a journey, which is both fulfilling and impactful.

Piramal fellowship, with its commitment to building a cadre of leaders who define change has been instrumental in introducing me to social entrepreneurship through various one on one session with leading social entrepreneurs, mentorships, conferences and workshops, equipping me with the necessary tools to bring to life the transformations I envision.

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Education, Environment, Impact Assessment