Rob Katz

Journey for Change: India Snapshot

The UK-based social business Journeys for Change recently brought a group of senior leaders from some of the world’s top private, public and civil society organisations (including Credit Suisse, Swedbank, BonnVentures & the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation) to meet some of India’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs in Calcutta and Hyderabad.

If you’ve never heard the term before, a learning journey is a chance for a dozen or so leaders to spend time in a different context. In the case of this particular journey, the group spent time with social entrepreneurs in India – and has since reported back on many fronts.

The group had a busy agenda for a relatively short trip – in Calcutta, they visited Future Hope, Anjali, Jeevika, Kolkata Sanved and Bangala Natak. In Hyderabad, they visited Acumen Fund, VisionSpring, Intellecap, Shaheen and SKS Microfinance. Talk about a whirlwind!

I’m personally intrigued by the concept of learning journeys, and have followed the team’s blog and Flickr sets to get an arms-length perspective on the trip. I’d recommend you do the same. There are two fantastic podcasts and two blog posts that stick out to me, as a BoP and market-based approaches to poverty professional. They are:

  • Podcast with Vijay Mahajan, Chairman of BASIX. Vijay is one of India’s most accomplished and respected leading social entrepreneurs. In 1983, he founded PRADAN, one of the first organizations in India to mobilize self-help groups within rural populations. Since then, he has dedicated his career to fostering livelihood creation for people living in rural poverty. He’s now chairman of BASIX, a group of seven companies that provide unserved rural communities with access not only to microcredit, but also a comprehensive set of services ranging from insurance and agricultural business development to technical training. The Journeys for Change group had the opportunity to talk to Vijay in Hyderabad, getting his insight on everything from the unromantic realities of social enterprise to his belief that everything we do must be driven by passion in order to be effective.
  • Podcast with VisionSpring. While in Hyderabad, Journeys for Change connected with VisionSpring. This organization provides inexpensive eyeglasses to people who would not otherwise be able to afford any. VisionSpring empowers local entrepreneurs to run one-day vision campaigns in villages throughout the state, providing free eye tests and selling eyeglasses for 175 rupees a pair (the equivalent of three US dollars). For many Vision Entrepreneurs, it’s an opportunity to not only provide a critical service, but also to earn a livelihood. During this podcast, you’ll hear three UK-based social entrepreneurs discuss their experience at a vision campaign in a local village. Luke Walsh designs software for colorblind people, his colorblind simulator Huetility is now available for the iPhone. Amy Barbor and Rose McCausland run Living Lens, an organization that empowers marginalized groups through video. The three explore VisionSpring’s unique distribution model and discuss the potential advantages of expanding services beyond eyecare.
  • Blog post on Intellecap. Intellecap is a social-sector advisory firm serving corporates, non-profits, development agencies, and governments working in developing markets. The company facilitates investments, provides consulting services, and builds knowledge and information focused on scalable and sustainable development initiatives, both in India and globally. Journey participant Natalie Chou has spent much of her career exploring the intersection of the private, public, and social sectors. A young professional who has worked within finance in New York and is now starting her own enterprise in Beijing, Natalie has also been very involved in establishing the non-profit Junior Achievement China. As she describes in this post, Intellecap’s work and impact provides key insight into the realm of social enterprise.
  • Blog post on SKS Microfinance. SKS Microfinance’s mission is to eradicate poverty by providing a comprehensive range of financial services to the poor – including life and health insurance. Journeys for Change visited a microcredit meeting in a village near Hyderabad, run by SKS-trained community members. The microentrepreneurs had gathered to make their regular loan repayments. Biplab Das is a Director of Credit Suisse at its head office in Zurich, where he focuses on development and worldwide distribution of sustainable investment products. He writes this post not only as an expert in the world of microfinance, but also as an expatriate experiencing his native country in a new light.

I realize this is a lot, but download the podcasts and listen to them while you’re on the commute to work or school. The blog posts are 10-15 minutes each, and worth it. If you’re still impatient, perhaps you would like to check out some photos from the journey?

Congrats to the Journeys for Change team and I look forward to hearing about their future journeys!

(Full disclosure: Acumen Fund, one of the organizations visited on this Journey, is a sponsor of Acumen is also an investor in VisionSpring.)