Interview With Yashveer Singh, Founder & Director, NSEF, on Social Entrepreneurship and More

Posted on October 19, 2010 in Interviews

In a society like ours, where great minds emerge, social entrepreneurship is  the way forward towards a better India. Furthering this idea is the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum, or NSEF, which was created to inspire and build people and organizations, who can effectively respond to social challenges, lead the movement for grass roots development and be the premier place for social entrepreneurs to meet, collaborate, learn and develop social innovations. In light of their upcoming event, Confluence, our Sub Editor Nitum Jain catches up with Yashveer Singh, the Founder and Director of the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum. Here are excerpts from the interview conducted:

Ok, let’s start with the heart of NSEF, what is your idea of Social Entrepreneurship?

My idea of social entrepreneurship is that it’s an approach to address an issue or a problem, which exist in the society, in a very sustainable and systematic manner.

This leads to the question that how is NSEF specifically impacting the youth, how is it fostering social entrepreneurship in students?

If you go by facts, India is a country where there are many social organizations, most of them are not for profit though there are some which are for profit and have come up since last few years. There is a lot of work that is happening in the social sector. But the problem is that there are so many issues that are not being addressed, so many problems that still exist. So NSEF finally is bringing the expertise and experience or these social enterprises and organizations to universities because we felt that university is a time where a student trains his mentality, thinks about what he is going to opt as a career, what he is going to do in life; or we can say that his mental framework is groomed in that period of one’s life. Right now in India we lack any kind of a platform or focused education on social entrepreneurship so NSEF through its various programs is trying to inspire motivate educate and guide the youth in the universities to become social entrepreneurs or work in this field.

We just talked about how India has still got a lot of reserve potential and there is much that is and can be done, so what really is the scope of social entrepreneurship in India?

I personally feel that social entrepreneurship for the young is not that you should just go and do some social work, there is a lot of market, you can say, which is lying at the base of the pyramid. Market, I mean, there are so many people who stay hungry, are not able to get a good education, so many who suffer unemployment so maybe young people should take this as an opportunity and develop social businesses, social business when I say means that you are not working for profit but you are charging for your products and services to sustain your model and because the volume is so high, the people occupying that base of the pyramid are so many, their numbers are so high, so when you reach to them that is when it is sustainable. It is to show the youth that there are several such models of social entrepreneurship that exist and this can be chosen as a career option where one can sustain and make a difference. One can go out and do voluntary work but that can be opted as one’s career too, where money isn’t the primary intent and yet can one sustain oneself.

Entrepreneurship as we usually see it as is something that demands a lot of finance; can you tell our readers how to start their own social entrepreneurship in a way that it requires little monetary help and is fuelled more by their good ideas?

Social Entrepreneurship, as I see it, is driven by passion. For example, you don’t like to see a person sleeping hungry so that means it is something that touches you inside. So if there is an issue or a problem about which you feel very strongly then only you take the plunge to become a social entrepreneur, then it is up to you how innovatively you develop a model so that you also generate some revenue and you are impacting the lives of the people who haven’t availed that service or product in the past. To construct such an entrepreneurship, three steps can be followed: –

  1. Feel very strongly about an issue or a cause.
  2. Proper analysis or research. Like what all existing models are working because one big issue for social entrepreneurship gets infinite scalability of the replications of the same innovative ideas. Say, someone is doing a great work in Chennai but because people do not know that the same could be repeated in Delhi or some other region the idea remains just in that one place.
  3. Look for support systems that help the young to set up such enterprises. When I say support systems, there are organizations like NSEF which helps them to connect with people of existing social entrepreneurs and mentors; there are organizations like Ashoka Youth Ventures and Unlimited which incubate your ideas and sometimes even provide you with small initial funding. So there are many organizations already which are coming forward to support young social ideas, to help them design their ventures and ideas in a better efficient way and give them clarity as to how to start such work and then go about it.

Coming from that, youth is powerful today but little of that power is put to use. Sometimes it is that they do not know where to start from but otherwise they just don’t seem to have the will to do it so there is this need of an impetus, a motivating factor. So how do you think that can be provided to them?

That can only be provided in the form of inspiration, it could be any form and not just restricted to social entrepreneurship but any field. So the need is to provide them motivation then is to give them support because as you said, many don’t have any idea about what to do next so there have to platforms, there have to be systems which guide them and tell them this will be the next step. This is a kind of gap that NSEF too is trying to bridge because right now there is no platform which can provide the kind of technical know-how and knowledge or information to commence such a business. If you want to do some kind of internships in social enterprises or know what all opportunities are there, then people who are already in the particular field should be the ones to motivate and provide that support. This can be done by sharing success stories and online interaction, so this is a gradual process that develops over a long period; it has to be done regularly though with perfection so that the eagerness in the youth could be inculcated for the benefit for the social cause.

Talking about NSEF, the organization is holding the event — Confluence on the 23rd of October, 2010. Tell us about it.

NSEF, its primary model is to set up an NSEF chapter in academic institutions. When I say NSEF chapter, it means that there will be a group of students who conduct some activities.

One event is having a speaker or an experienced entrepreneur in the campus who will share his challenges, views and model with the students.

After providing this inspiration and motivation, the second event is Capability-building; here one is taught how to begin and design such a venture.

Third is holding a business plan competition because after the aforementioned two steps there are 15-20 people who stand up and say that they wish to start a venture, this calls for a platform where it can differentiated whether someone’s idea is workable and has worth. So such competitions are to look at the potential in one’s ideas and help them note flaws and then rectify them.

Fourth event is to provide internships; in summers students usually look for internships and here a person can spend some time in a social enterprise and try to put their talent to use; for example, a communications student can devise marketing strategies or engineering students can help in the IT sector and website designs.

Fifth is the Confluence, it is the annual event of NSEF where all student delegates who are part of various NSEF chapters come to visit. Additionally, students who do not have a chapter in their university also come and learn from the former, meet successful entrepreneurs and well-known experts. There is another part of this event where talks and discussions are conducted which is primarily to inspire and inform. There is also an initiative called ‘Ideas to Reality’; if somebody has an idea then the first thing he requires is guidance; this initiative picks some these ideas and immediately provides mentors who would help them to take the idea to the next stage. We are also exhibiting few good innovative start-ups where the young people who successfully started a social enterprise share experiences and the message is given that if people of your age have done it so can you.

So at the end, is there something that you wish to convey to our readers?

The whole idea is to understand that we do not need to leave our already existing life but can just contribute in one way or the other in a meaningful manner. If you have talent than you can provide some time and focus on the social issues; rather than cribbing about the problems the youth can take action.

To know more about the event — Confluence, click here.