Devanik Saha

National Social Entrepreneurship Forum: Creating a Network With Purpose

Recently, I had a chance to interact with Yashveer Singh, founder of the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum. NSEF is an organization working toward democratizing social innovation and Entrepreneurship amongst Indian youth. (Previous posts on NSEF can be found here and here). I asked Singh about the organization and about its Authors of Change Program. What led to the creation of NSEF? Could you provide a brief summary of the model?

Singh: Born and brought up in a very small village in India as a child I had seen the inequalities in the opportunities existing in our society. Fortunate to get good quality education, as a student, I drove various initiatives as the president of student’s union at BITS Pilani. Once I graduated, I realized that young people like me who wish to create value in our society and develop purposeful goals have severe shortage of knowledge and enabling platforms to support their aspirations, and hence, along with other like-minded people, came up with the idea of developing such platform and started the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum (NSEF).

Our model is to work with universities through a number of initiatives including setting up centers of excellence at top institutes across the country; inspiring through real-time stories, building capacities through social venture planning tools, technical consulting through mentorship, providing access to diverse networks by organizing conferences and competitions across the country. Also, through our flexible approach, we made sure so as to not recreate the wheel, and with many universities weaved the social element into youth-targeted entrepreneurial programs wherever they reside. Could you talk about NSEF Authors of Change Program? What sorts of students and enterprises are recruited for this program? And how it has benefitted both?

Singh: NSEF Authors of Change engages students and provides them a hands-on experience to learn the ropes of running a social enterprise for a time period of two to three months where they utilize their skills working on real time projects. The strength of the program lies in creating a network of young leaders who are provided with access to mentors and experts from the sector. During the internship they learn from each other through regular interactions and knowledge sharing. The program culminates with a two-day transformational leadership immersion boot camp, abuzz with interactive sessions, lectures, case studies, capacity building sessions, felicitations and the networking amongst each other. Sessions are handled by people from diverse backgrounds like social entrepreneurs, business consultants, and policy makers and will span a wide spectrum of topics instilling inspiration, wisdom and offering unparalleled opportunities to learn, connect and influence.

Many authors of change from last two years have gone on to establish their own enterprises like Angels R&D, Lectures for Good, Antral, FoodKhoj etc. Also, some of them post graduation decided to work with social enterprises and government for policy making. But, more importantly, all of them have built socially responsible perspectives and mindset. These students who come from diverse disciplines and backgrounds are selected on the basis of their demonstrated passion and commitment towards social change, leadership experience and their aspiration to contribute to inclusive growth. On the other hand, social enterprises get access to and are benefitted from the skills of the brightest students coming from premier engineering, arts, and management schools of India. We look for social enterprises who offer short term entrepreneurial projects, some of them are being run by Ashoka Fellows, Echoing Green Fellows and TED Fellows. What you think about the replicability of this model? Can we extend it to other countries or maybe within other organizations? Are you open to sharing?

Singh: Yes, this model could be replicated in other countries as well. I believe developed countries do have such enabling networks, but the need is more in developing countries to build social enterprise movements. We would be happy to share our learning and provide knowledge support to others who wish to do so. Through your experiences, what are the challenges upcoming social entrepreneurs are facing in India?

Singh: Social Entrepreneurship has got sudden attention in the last few years, it has raised the expectations and aspirations of many around the globe. Currently in India, significant changes are occurring in the sector, including major developments in the flow of funding, entry of new social investment models and impact measurement tools. Still, from an operational point of view challenge is to get high quality human resource, raise resources and get data on BoP dynamics. Also, being a diverse country in terms of life style of people, needs etc. these entrepreneurs face a big challenge of scaling up the social ventures as products/service requires customization according to local area, as a result many innovative models are restricted to particular parts of the country.

Secondly, I feel creating products/services that appeal to the poor doesn’t necessarily mean social business, in fact, many of them are commercial businesses, as there is more to a social business than a profit motive. So, the challenge would be – to make sure the double edged sword of social enterprise doesn’t overwhelm the social mission. Moreover, the stress has been more on thinking economically poor as customers, whereas I believe lots of innovation is required to equip poor as the producers and unleashing their inherent entrepreneurial capabilities . How would a more effective ecosystem help these entrepreneurs?

Singh: An effective ecosystem needs to help address some of the challenges discussed above by curating meaningful conversations between various stakeholders eventually building trust, analyzing expectations and proving that the system works. It could play an important role by removing the information asymmetry in the sector, in addition, it could facilitate cross sector partnerships by engaging businesses and governments to figure out ways to work in tandem towards shared goals. As we understand that social enterprise is a volumes game – one needs to continuously redesign & evolve strategies to be customer & institutional friendly at the same time – which calls for regular learning to understand tools of cooperation & market/value chains. How do you measure success?

Singh: Success to me is synonymous to impact created. To measure our impact our approach is both qualitative and quantitative. By qualitative I mean the changes in attitudes, outlook, values, etc. as our aim is to create a shift by sparking socially responsible behavioral change and biggest impact could be to build a cohort of young people who understand the subtleties of this sector. Having said that, we actively collect information about the results of our programs, systematically analyze it and evolve our strategies as per requirements with a focus on producing results.

Education, Social Enterprise
business development, social enterprise