Sriram Gutta

Reporting from Sankalp 2010: A Profile of the 2010 Award Winners

“India is doing great work in the social enterprise space and you all should be proud of it!”

These were the words of an international participant at the Sankalp Forum 2010 – a gathering of hundreds of social entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers, and social sector enthusiasts held in Mumbai last week. My two days at the event are a testimony to these thoughts; it was exhilarating to see so many entrepreneurs with business models that are scalable and sustainable while addressing pressing social challenges. Sankalp is in fact becoming India’s premier networking, awards venue, and investment forum for the growing social enterprise industry.

The first session of this year’s forum was kicked-off by Manish Tripathi, from the Dabbawallahs, who entered the stage shouting “Good Morning Entrepreneurs!”. Manish’s passion and energy was representative of the many social entrepreneurs sitting in the room and elsewhere. Tripathi’s message to the audience was: “Run a business that caters to the very basic needs of people and your success is guaranteed.” Indeed, most finalists (and other participants) at Sankalp have developed models that address the most basic yet unmet needs of the poor.

Tilak Mishra, who also attended the Sankalp forum, wrote about the panel discussions and the insightful themes that were discussed. In this post, I would like to shine a spotlight on some of the winners at Sankalp 2010 awards, one of the most important parts of the venue which includes showcasing social enterprises from various sectors such as Agriculture, Food and rural business, inclusive education, health services, water and sanitation, clean energy, and technology for development. The Sankalp forum serves as the final round of judging for 10 high-impact enterprises that serve social ends through market-based approaches and are selected out of hundreds of nominees.

Some of the interesting enterprises I saw at Sankalp include – in no particular order:

  • Jaipur Rugs: One of India’s leading manufacturers of hand-made carpets, which employs over 40,000 people across seven states in north India. The company, which started with two rug looms in 1978, is today the largest hand knotted rug export company in India. They export to countries like USA, Australia, Canada, Spain, Greece, and Germany amongst other countries. Last year, the late C.K. Prahalad wrote a case study on Jaipur Rugs.
  • Husk Power Systems (HPS): An Acumen Fund investee and New Ventures India company, is a rural electrification company that targets 350 million people in India without power living in small villages. HPS uses novel biomass gasification technology to convert abundant rice husks into combustible gases, which then drive a generator to produce clean, safe and efficient electricity at affordable rates.
  • Sarvajal – Sarvajal, the brand name of Piramal water, provides affordable, accessible, and pure drinking water to rural and urban populations where the quality of water is often the cause of more than 60% of common health ailments. Sarvajal provides water at a low cost of 25 paise/litre through a scalable delivery solution and a franchise model – empowering villagers to become “water entrepreneurs”. Potential future models include “ATM-like” water kiosks placed in convenient locations and fully automated refinery systems.
  • Pipal Tree Ventures – Pipal Tree provides vocational training for the skills needed in the construction industry to unemployed youth in rural areas. Pipal Tree reaches 300 students, mainly young unemployed men in rural areas and hopes to expand this reach to 50,000 – 100,000 in the next five years. They focus on construction skills training, along with an expanded suite of services including microfinance school loan provisions, post-graduation job placement, and workplace monitoring.

In only its second year, Sankalp has come a long way in promoting social entrepreneurship in India, and its biggest success factor has been the ability to bring together key players of the ecosystem. There are some areas where there are further opportunities for improvement, including the criteria by which organizations and enterprises are assigned to the five sectors mentioned earlier. In the case of some finalists, it wasn’t clear as to why they were put in a particular category. This shows the diversity of entries that Sankalp received and is positive news for the social enterprise space. Perhaps the categories could be updated to effectively reflect the landscape.

Sankalp forum was a great opportunity to witness innovative social enterprises, share knowledge, and above all network with like-minded people from the ecosystem. I had the opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds. Some of them included – a representative from Acumen Fund, an associate with Intellecap, a representative from IFMR, an India team member from Grassroots Business Fund, senior management at EdelGive , among others.

I am sure that Sankalp will continue evolving into one of the world’s foremost forums for social enterprises.