Thursday, July 19, 2007

Making a little company look Big - International Herald Tribune

The basic principles of social or activist entrepreneurship are no different from "regular" entrepreneurship. At the end of the day other folks want to invest (their money or time) in what succeeds. As entrepreneur, if you believe you can succeed, you will succeed. Its called "inventing the future" in Silicon Valley. Help yourself: make yourself look successful. Two reasons why this article is so relevant:
1 -it gives good advice and even more importantly
2 -it says its Ok to create the illusion
Check this article from the NY Times (no registration required) "To build a successful company, entrepreneurs need to play a variety of roles -- visionary, sales representative and morale builder, to name a few. " But, in some cases, especially in the early years, they may need to play another, less obvious one: illusionist. "That means finding resourceful ways, like renting temporary office space or using answering services, to make themselves seem larger and more firmly established than they may actually be." (Reminds me of how Hewlett and Packard gave their first product the model number "200A" to give the impression that they had a product line. --cg)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The New Face of Entrepreneurship

On Saturday July 10th I had the opportunity to be on the PAN-IIT panel "Social Entrepreneurs: The New Breed". My objective with this panel was to create mindshare for this emerging area of entrepreneurship - so it was really gratifying to see how the large hall filled up and the audience created a huge positive energy -bringing their passion for "doing well by doing good" to the Q&A part. In addition to the panel I hosted lunch tables on two days. Bottom line is I met more enthusiastic, dedicated folks in these two days than I have in any other two days in my whole life! Many people shared their stories with me. So what did I learn? I learned that it is hard to be a social entrepreneur - it involves risk-taking, passion to persist in the face of obstacles and yes ability to manage finances -Best of luck and kudos for trying! You are all winners.

Rural Innovation Fund

A good source for social entrepreneurs in India - Rural Innovation Fund supported by Microsoft

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Creation of an Ecosystem

My mentor during my stay at Stanford is currently visiting Motorola India Research Labs in Bangalore on a temporary posting. He used this opportunity to invite me to make a presentation on our Disease Surveillance project to a group of senior people at Motorola India Research Labs this morning. It was a highly interactive session in which about 15 researchers took part and asked some very interesting questions on my project. Rajiv's objective was to get the local Motorola team interested in supporting our project in some collaborative way. A one-hour session went on for over 2 hours and was then followed by lunch. So I think it was great exposure
for our project. I also got to meet a set of very smart, young people who are excited about the potential applications of mobile technologies to social problems.

Thanks, Rajiv, for arranging this talk. Let us keep networking and propound our ideas in every possible situation. That is how we can create an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship in India.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Social Entrepreneur or Activist Entrepreneur?

Back in Bangalore, I was recently discussing our stint at Stanford's Digital Vision Program with a few friends when some good ideas came up. I was giving my usual spiel on Social Entrepreneurship when my good friend Partho Ray chirped up and said that instead of "Social Entrepreneur" we should perhaps consider the term "Activist Entrepreneur".

His reasoning was that while the word "entrepreneur" captured the concept of a passionate individual or group focusing on doing something positive very well, the word "social" has negative connotations as it tends to represent the average NGO and/or politico who is typically a stumbling block to progress. He felt that the concept of "social entrepreneur" is an oxymoron. The "socialist" is typically some guy out to bring the least common denominator to society, he is out to promote poverty as a virtue and to bring everyone down to a lower common level of wealth. On the other hand, an "activist" is a person out to disrupt the status quo, to bring about positive societal change and raise the level of the least common denominator itself.

Sounds familiar? A socialist society encourages shared community resources and distribution of wealth, even though unearned, and discourages private ownership. Distribution of poverty and collateral misery is the goal of a socialist, though he may not think so. On the other hand, a capitalist society encourages creation of individual wealth through personal initiative and ownership. How do you distribute wealth without first creating it? Sounds reasonable?

In a sense, "social" and "entrepreneur" do not mix very well and "social entrepreneur" may be an oxymoron. However, an activist sounds like a positive person who has his heart in the right place.

Now that's an interesting idea worthy of a fresh debate. Social Entrepreneur or Activist Entrepreneur? Does anyone want to take this theme forward?


Sunday, July 8, 2007

How India can learn from Africa

Ethan Zuckerman's- overview of development camps- more aid? better governance? infrastructure? entrepreneurship? …My heart’s in Accra » Incremental infrastructure, or how mobile phones might wire Africa puts me squarely in the entrepreneurship camp - so now I know where I stand! More so I think India can learn from his africa eample on how mobile phone business may even fund distributed solar or biofuel energy for rural areas

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Green is Good Gold

"I think many Googles will be created in the energy business" says Vinod Khosla - from the San Jose Mercury News, June 11, 07 - and Khosla Ventures is puting its money where its mouth is - Now couple that with some research needed for markets like India to bring costs down (see previous blogs on Selco and energy issues in Gurgaon) and we have something green and gold and good.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Trip to a Museum and Building Robust Futures through Scenarios

Amongst the many awesome resources at Stanford is the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts located close to the Quad. A truly remarkable museum that we visited on our penultimate day at Stanford, we found it to be a hidden gem well worth a visit even though we could spend just a few hours there. I do wish every visitor to the Stanford campus would find some time to visit this place and spend some time there.

It started as the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum way back in 1894, around the same time as the formation of the university itself, but in 1999 it re-opened after extensive modifications as the Cantor Center for Visual Arts.

The Rodin collection and the Rodin Sculpture Garden are truly remarkable. We also saw an exhibition of artifacts depicting the life of the Tuareg, a nomadic tribe of North-western Africa. The good news is that Cantor Museum allow visitors to take pictures, except in their Photo Gallery. So, thanks to the versatility, portability and unobtrusiveness of the digital camera, we landed up taking a lot of pictures.

However, we had a major disaster that I should have been better prepared for. While we managed to take loads of pictures inside the Museum, our camera battery died on us when we came out into the Rodin Garden. I was reminded of the usefulness of Neil Jacobstein's Robust Futures and Scenarios Workshop in which he taught us to think of the worst-case and best-case scenarios that our projects might encounter and then prepare strategies for handling them and build robust organisations. A pity, I hadn't thought of carrying a spare camera battery while visiting a museum. I had a spare high capacity memory card and was confident I would have adequate storage capacity for the entire day but forgot a basic fact that modern mobile devices have finite battery life!!

So Neil's workshop on planning for robust futures and a visit to the Cantor Museum brought home to me the importance of scenario planning for any major activity that we wish to undertake. While intuition is good, it can always be improved through formal structure and scenario planning. Thanks Neil, for the wonderful workshop that I will always remember and for exposing us to a different way of thinking about the future.