Sankalp 2010: Summer of social entrepreneurship

Sankalp 2010: Summer of social entrepreneurship

CNNGo reader Cynthia Shanmugalingam reports from this Mumbai conference where great minds came together to catalyze investment in social change
Sankalp 2010
The director of Mumbai's ingenious Dabawallas Association delivered the keynote address at Sankalp 2010. Meet this year's finalists.

At first glance the bustling lobby of the Taj Lands End in Bandra last week seemed like the familiar exchange of chit-chat, business cards and firm handshakes at the fringe of every standard business conference from Bombay to Barbados. But if you'd managed to get in to India's biggest social enterpreneurship conference Sankalp 2010, and eavesdropped on the smalltalk, you'd have realised that this was, in fact, bigtalk. This crowd was meeting up to change the world, using sharp business sense and professional values.

Being in social entrepreneurship is not something that your aunty always approves of when she asks you what you're up to over some Diwali jalebis. In a young industry, you’ll typically face the long hours of startups, less pay than the private sector, less job security than the public sector and the constant pressure to innovate to solve entrenched and sometimes overwhelming social problems like discrimination against disability, trafficking of the children of prostitutes, poor sanitation in slums or corruption so deep that it has so far eluded 60 years of Indian activism and several billion U.S. dollars in aid, grants and government spending. 

It's a job that needs the brightest minds and the biggest hearts, and the good men and women at Sankalp 2010, showed that India -- and Mumbai -- have some of the best in the world right here at our doorstep. 

The summertime summit on Indian social entrepreneurship brought together tech investors, top-tier consultants, university gold-medalists, MBAs, community organizers, left-wing agitators and die-hard activists -- serious people talking seriously clever ideas. A kind of 'Indian-Idol-for-social-change', Sankalp attendees were treated to seeing some of the most innovative projects to change lives in India being nominated for the Oscars of the trying-to-do-good world. 

Some nominees were focused on creating job opportunities for segments of India's poorest 60 percent. Like Source Pilani, an employee-owned rural BPO, offering rural youth an alternative to migrating to the big city; and Mirakle Couriers, a professional courier company employing low-income deaf people who would otherwise struggle to find well-paid work. Others had thought of clever ways to design the modern world into lives being left behind by economic progress, such as Skymet, who send all-important text messages to poor rural farmers on the weather, the single biggest variable in their lives; and Hole in the Wall Limited, who place computer terminals in slums and watch as children teach themselves to use technology.

A class from Dasra Social-Impact, who attended a year long leadership programme for promising entrepreneurs, graduated at the event. And had among them ideas to transform the production of regular goods like salt and honey to put low-income producers higher up the value chain. Ideas such as Sabras, using infamous Gujarati sunshine to power cost savings for poor salt producers; and Under the Mango Tree, selling organic honey and providing support to beekeepers across the country.

Sankalp left me wondering about the next generation of innovations and innovators that can use their ingenuity, resourcefulness and drive to help make the world a better place in sustainable, entrepreneurial ways. Social work this ain't.

The Sankalp 2010 Awards and Investment Forum is an annual Intellecap initiative committed to catalyzing entrepreneurship in the social enterprise space. Intellecap is a pioneer in providing innovative business solutions that help scale profitable and sustainable enterprises dedicated to social and environmental change. Read more.

Cynthia Shanmugalingam attended Sankalp 2010 on behalf of her organization Dasra Social-Impact, and writes a personal blog at The Mahatma Lives.