Nitin Rao

Talent Strategy for NextBillion Enterprises

India Job FairOn, we have discussed business models, strategies, and funding for successful enterprises aimed at the world’s poorest citizens. Another critical issue is getting the right talent.

Sure, you are catering to the Next Billion people. Sure, you have unprecedented hype – and investment. But what about the people to lead and drive the next phase of development through enterprise?

A friend at a leading social investment consulting firm spoke to me about their interns from Ivy League universities in the US. Many, he said, took far too long to get acclimatized to India. As he put it, “before they settled down, it was time to go back”.

While it is indeed commendable that these students have travelled far for an internship, it raises serious questions about whether this is talent that will endure, and be equipped to make the biggest impact on the “next billion.”

Consider India, at the heart of green and social enterprise. Unlike in the US, the vast majority of talented students elect to major in Engineering or Medicine. The engineering graduates are then hounded for opportunities in the software industry, and code their way to narrowing a global arbitrage. Few consider a career in Development Through Enterprise. For some, it’s about the remuneration. But for most engineers, they choose software due to a lack of understanding and exposure to alternate opportunities. (Of course, a number of IT professionals help effect social change).

If enterprises investing in developing economies are to be sustained, they should attract the best talent. And much of this can come from providing students access to a challenging work environment.

It may seem all too obvious. But the gap has not been driven out. On one hand, some of the brightest talent is seeking internship opportunities. On the other, social enterprises need the perspective and energy of young employees.

I propose: Engineers for Social Impact: an opportunity for current sophomores to spend a summer at a social enterprise, gain understanding and contribute. Connecting, to begin with, say the 10 best candidates from 10 reputed universities to the 10 most credible for-profit social enterprises.

While initiatives such as Engineers Without Borders and Engineers for a Sustainable World have helped draw interest towards the role of engineers in development, the proposed initiative focuses exclusively on building a pool of highly talented, sustainable, local talent – in my case, here in India.

The difference in objectives is not driven by parochial ideas, but by a need for leaders who understand the issues in their communities, and can make positive social impact.

Many view social internships and community service as nothing beyond a ticket to graduate school. Some may continue to think so. But through an experience with Engineers for Social Impact, I hope, more individuals will experience the power to effect change.

I am very passionate about this idea–and am keen to set this up, and look forward to comments and partners from the NextBillion community.

It is almost fitting that yesterday, Legatum, a private firm that invests in the global financial markets and in initiatives that support sustainable development, announced a structured gift of $50 million to create a new center at MIT.

The establishment of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship will support aspiring entrepreneurs from the developing world who have a strong commitment to development entrepreneurship, helping them to acquire the knowledge and skills required for successful business development and civic leadership around the world.

A friend recently told me that engineers should be proud to be socially conscious. I believe that we do little by being socially conscious, and much by making positive social impact.