Each year spent at UnLtd India brings new introspections for me. Sharing with you some of my learnings and our new initiatives in 2019-20.
Just before the ‘C-Word’ became a household dread, we were in scaling mode. Strategising how to use our expertise to support community-based social entrepreneurs, who lack access to institutional support, in rural India. Everything changed overnight. We paused and regrouped quickly to alter our plans. We stayed with our core Incubation Program and took a leap to make it Pan-India for the first time in 13 years. This move enables us to scale our cause, support people from remote and underserved geographies.
Together is better
Our capacity-building workshops used to be one-day activities spread across the year for our cohorts. We realised there was learning, but with a boundary – time. We re-designed these to become 3-4 days residential workshops, packed with sessions along with a slice of fun. Staying together encourages peer engagement as entrepreneurs discover new concepts together, swap learnings, their weaknesses and strengths, laugh at game nights and walk away with a support system. A worth-while investment for all stakeholders.
Peer Learning needs to be centre stage
Our annual event, The Huddle, a much-awaited by invite event, brings all our social entrepreneurs together. At the last Huddle, we experimented! Along with panels and workshops, we opened the stage to our entrepreneurs, to share their experiences and learnings – a series called – ‘In the Spotlight’. It was a smashing success! I realised that we may be able to provide entrepreneurs with inputs that are appreciated, but there is nothing to replace learning from a fellow entrepreneur.
People are the cornerstone of expansion
In 2018, we expanded our footprint and set up a small Delhi project office with two members. This year, I made the hard decision to shut it down. The project delivery and experience was seamless. However, mere on-screen interactions, being away from the rest of the team led to a lack of real personal camaraderie, missed celebrations and an overall feeling of missing out. I am sure with more effort some of these could have been overcome but indeed, a profound learning.
Any impact is impact, big or small
We often hear the word ‘scale’ with regards to entrepreneurs. For social entrepreneurs who are addressing problems at a community level solutions are localised or made replicable with contextual modifications for scaling to state or national level. Using technology for increased outreach is a viable solution in some cases but cannot replace personal engagement that is necessary. We believe while scaling impact is important, supporting community-level impact is equally important. Our belief was magnified during the national lockdown for Covid-19 where community-based entrepreneurs were able to quickly understand the needs, gaps and mobilize resources during the crisis.
Promoting a culture of giving
This is work-in-progress for me and an area I need more support in. We work with early-stage social entrepreneurs addressing diverse social problems. They are able to connect with communities, pilot their ideas and demonstrate measurable anecdotal impact. However, NGOs struggle with getting the required tax exemptions and need to wait for 3 years of existence to even approach CSRs. Social enterprises need to have business plans at scale to engage with an impact investor. At this early stage, we believe (U)HNIs are the only and best source of support for social start-ups, as they can bring the required network & financial help. We have started building a circle of influencers, givers. However, matching social entrepreneurs and philanthropists requires sustained initiative, awareness and seems like a long road ahead.
Collaborating with domestic donors isn’t as hard
It’s commonly known that onboarding a domestic donor is tough especially for ecosystem builders without direct on-ground impact; international donors/foundations are much more open & understanding. Over the last 12 months, I’ve met incredible domestic funders who understand the ecosystem, are willing to explore, experiment and support. The key is getting the right access, introductions, and having a solid value proposition on the table.
I look forward to the next year and everything that it has in store. I am grateful to everyone who supported us through the last year – with particular thanks to our social entrepreneurs, our Board, advisory members, supporters, funders and partners. Thank you for all you do to enable us to nurture ideas for social change. Looking forward to continuing to amplify our impact, together.
You can read more about our impact in the last year here.