If I was looking for inspiration…I found it at Sankalp Forum

Pic: courtesy newhottopics.blogspot.com

When I was interviewing Sean Blagsvedt for this post, he casually asked if I was attending Sankalp Forum. “Say, what forum??” was my response. A subsequent perusal of Sankalp Forum‘s site offered sufficient intrigue. A plea for registration fee waiver (on grounds that Techsangam was a non-revenue-generating blog to date) yielded partial success and I registered.

Two months since I quit my corporate job, I wasn’t quite experiencing buyer’s remorse. It felt more like a nuclear reactor trying to go “critical” but unsure about the when. I had set myself a goal of reaching a daily post regimen by two months. As I approached the two-month mark, with a grand total of fifteen posts, I promptly gave myself a one-month extension. As I explained to inquiring friends, I hadn’t quite hit my rhythm. There would be consecutive days where I’d meet (or chat by phone) social entrepreneurs, then hit a lull, and then hit a streak of consecutive days where I’d publish posts.

Anyhoo, I reached Mumbai with a fair bit of anticipation and, after two days at Sankalp Forum, wasn’t disappointed. In fact, by the time Friday evening rolled around, it felt like a coming-out party for Techsangam.com. While we may argue endlessly on the key differences between a social entrepreneur and a regular entrepreneur, I didn’t see any difference in the level of passion or ambition. The sample of social entrepreneurs I met (and listened to) during the two days were every bit as passionate and ambitious as any group of traditional entrepreneurs. In no particular order, here are my quick takeaways from Sankalp Forum:

  • Impact Investing: My first learning was that impact investing is a term now being used to describe investors looking for returns above and beyond financial returns (think double bottom line and triple bottom line).
  • Hordes of VCs: During the conference, I tweeted that one needed to be an efficient speed-dater in order to make the most of the networking breaks during conferences. I’m NOT an efficient speed-dater (never was one) but I managed to collect about 30 business cards. Eight of the business cards collected (13%) were venture capitalists. I did expect to find VCs at the forum but not this many. It’s great news for social entrepreneurship when hordes of VCs descend on the leading social enterprises conference. I even ran into VCs from Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • The young and the restless: The founders of Carbon Clean Solutions (clean coal technology for power plants, steel, cement and petrochemical industries) graduated from IIT-Kharagpur last year. The founder of Milk Mantra returned to his Odisha roots and is gearing up for the launch of a healthy set of milk products by building a direct last mile linkage to a network of 10,000 farmers, a network of vet care professionals, access to quality cattle feed, and partnership with MFIs to extend credit to poor farmers. The founders of Knids Green (recent graduates from IIM-A and NMIMS-Mumbai) seek to make Bihar (their home state) the vegetable capital of India by partnering on both the supply side (with farmers) and demand side (with vegetable vendors) thereby disrupting the current price-gouging middlemen networks. And there were more…
  • Not just Indians: It’s not just Indians participating in India’s social entrepreneurship revolution. Founder/co-founders of companies like Kiran Energy Solar Power (Alan Rosling) and E-Healthpoint (Dr. Al Hammond), Babajob (Sean Blagsvedt); Seed fund/social incubators UnLtd India (Richard Alderson) and pure-play impact investing Acumen Fund (Molly Alexander); folks like “Mark” (young telecom professional from Washington DC who moved to Mumbai 6 weeks ago to spend a few years, now doing some consulting with ZipDial), and financial advisory consultant for Unitus Capital and fellow blogger/live-tweeter (Aunnie Patton). And there were many others I couldn’t get to meet/identify.
  • Clean Energy panel: I rated this among the top two interesting sessions (other one was “Future of Impact Investing in India”). Moderated by sector expert and blogger Vineeth (of Panchabuta) and a distinguished group of panelists (Kiran Energy Solar’s Rosling, IT Power’s Chandrasekhar, Global Environment Fund’s Zaveri and Nereus’s Ms. Hattangidi) made it a very informative session.
  • Super-30: The penultimate session on day #1 was a talk by Anand Kumar (Founder of Super-30). Delivered in Hindi and straight from his heart, he spoke about the Super-30 story and his ambitious plans to start a new school that, he hopes, will someday create a Nobel Prize winner. If someone said this wasn’t an inspiring story, then I don’t know what is. (Detailed post on the Super-30 journey.)
  • Financialization of Capital: The final session on day#1 was an informal chat by Vijay Mahajan (Chairman of Basix). Fresh from a 60-day Shodh Yatra (‘foot travel’ in Hindi) where he got a lot of time to introspect, read and meet people, Mr. Mahajan shared his still-developing narrative that all forms of capital have been ‘financialized’. The five forms of capital being:
    • natural capital (energy, environment, etc.)
    • social capital (value added to activities and economic outputs of organizations by human relationships, partnership and cooperation)
    • human capital (health, knowledge, skills, intellectual outputs, and motivations of the individual)
    • manufactured/physical capital (goods, infrastructure like roads, buildings, etc.)
    • financial capital
  • Healthy pipeline: At Sankalp, I met the founders of 20-odd social enterprises. Pessimistically assuming that this represents 20% of the pool that attended Sankalp, there are at least 100 social enterprises to write about. Again, pessimistically assuming that a whopping 10% of India-wide social enterprises attended Sankalp, there are 900 others to discover and write about. Joyful times ahead! Full speed ahead, first mate! (ahem, that would be me!)

A few other topics warrant separate posts so stay tuned and watch this space. I’m also looking for the right Twitter tool to harvest the most useful tweets from the #sankalpforum hashtag and that’s a separate post, ok? :)

May 12 Update: Two Sankalp-related posts published:

 

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