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K Ramkumar, president, ICICI Foundation
catalist
“Time To Revisit Concept Of Social Enterprise”
I have seen a variety of people with and without this guilt. Those who don’t have it really end up prospering. And those who have it invariably move out of the radar.
COMMENTS PRINT
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
A new class of entrepreneurs are walking the tightrope between profit and social impact by forging strategic tie-ups with corporates, NGOs and the government. And they are here to stay
Rajat Ubhaykar
catalist 2014
Six years ago, in an attempt to counter competition and present differentiated content, Outlook Business decided to highlight the stories of social entrepreneurs as part of an annual issue.
Outlook Business
catalist 2014
In a social enterprise you can see the impact of what you are doing in the face of your customer in a very short time.
Ajay Piramal
catalist 2014
If you don’t have character as a company, it is very difficult to move beyond satisfaction to trust.
D Shivakumar

I don’t want to use this platform to talk about what work the ICICI Foundation does. It should be known through the work we do and the people who benefit from it rather than me standing here and telling you that because we sponsored an event. 

While listening to the panel discussion and the keynotes, what was going through my head was this — are we confusing the usage of the word social enterprise? Is it better to leave it as an enterprise rather than a social enterprise or is it better to stop at calling it an entrepreneurship rather than a social entrepreneurship.

My mind is asking the question, what are we adding value to? Who is being benefited by adding the word social to this? If it’s a social enterprise, it’s an enterprise. Will the confusion in the minds of the people go away by explaining what is it going to do? You may chose to work in the social sector or have a business model that transforms a certain part of the society. I’ve been closely involved with the association for the past 10 years when Nachiket used to run it in 2004. We have engaged with a lot of people who came to us expecting us to support them and they always had the confusion in their minds, “I want to do this, but where is it?” Ask yourself if it is the ideological mooring that is taking you there. And at a point, this ideological mooring brings in a sense of guilt in running an enterprise for profit and sustainability. Over 10 years, I have seen a variety of people with and without this guilt. Those who don’t have it really end up prospering. And those who have it invariably move out of the radar.

My proposition is to keep it simple by saying you are an entrepreneur with an enterprise. You have chosen a certain social sector to work in but you don’t necessarily have to worry about it being a social enterprise.

For 30 years since I started working, I’ve heard this debate between quality and quantity. If you have quality, would you have quantity? And if you have quantity, would quality reduce? I think this is what got India into trouble. We believed that quantity meant poor quality and quality meant niche.

 
 
"You’ve chosen a social sector to work in but you don’t necessarily have to worry about it being a social enterprise"
 
 
This debate was fascinating to me. Why should scale and impact be counterpoised? It’s difficult for me as a businessperson to comprehend this. I thought with scale you get impact. So if there is impact, these two things needn’t be counterpoised. Social India has grappled saying profit-making is evil. But you never created surplus. If you didn’t create surplus, how will you create impact that is sustainable? In my mind this is not polarised. I always believe that if you don’t have scale, you cannot create impact. And no one creates scale the next morning. And if you are not an entrepreneur and are not enterprising, you will not strive to create scale. If you don’t create scale then ask yourself why you got into this game. This argument is not going anywhere because do-gooding has some limits. Beyond a point, it cannot move forward. My point is not to say don’t do good, that’s not my argument actually.

I have always noticed that when a person goes to the hospital to attend to a sick friend, they don’t eat well. And when you don’t eat well, your ability to take care of the other person suffers. So then you end up looking for a doctor to take care of you. Though you went with the intent to really do good, now you’ve become a liability to that person instead. In my mind, I tell those people that they don’t have to have a tasty meal but please ensure you have enough carbs in your body to be up and healthy and take care of the person you intend to do good to. In the same manner, if we intend on transforming society but are not healthy as an institution, I don’t see a transformation taking place in the society despite our intent being good. If a lot of such people who have good intent but suffer with ill health come in and go off the radar, then the motivation for people to come into this sphere will be very less. They will wonder why they should get into it when 98 out of the 100 who came left. According to them, it wont be a good game to be in.

Also, I don’t believe in forced CSR. You either want to do it or you don’t. And if you do want to do it, you will do it well and not bother about gaining fame from it. Similarly, if you want to transform society, just go ahead and do it. Yes you will be small, but if you don’t aspire to become big, you will go off the radar.

COMMENTS PRINT
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
A new class of entrepreneurs are walking the tightrope between profit and social impact by forging strategic tie-ups with corporates, NGOs and the government. And they are here to stay
Rajat Ubhaykar
catalist 2014
Six years ago, in an attempt to counter competition and present differentiated content, Outlook Business decided to highlight the stories of social entrepreneurs as part of an annual issue.
Outlook Business
catalist 2014
In a social enterprise you can see the impact of what you are doing in the face of your customer in a very short time.
Ajay Piramal
catalist 2014
If you don’t have character as a company, it is very difficult to move beyond satisfaction to trust.
D Shivakumar
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