Last week of January each year XLRI, Jamsedhpur sets the stage for a series of dialogues propagating social development. National Conference on Social Entrepreneurship is an annual feature at XLRI to provide a common platform for stakeholders from the social sector to share, learn and interact.
"We wanted to play an active role in the growth of the social entrepreneurial sector. Conference was one way to facilitate this growth," said Prof. Madhukar Shukla. Professor Shukla has been the primary architect of this initiative and is also a social sector evangelist.
The objective of such a conference is to serve two purposes - to showcase innovative social models and to provide a common platform for all stakeholders in the social sector to interact.
"We realised that there were some very remarkable models and solutions to India's developmental problems, which were practiced by the social entrepreneurs. It is ironical that many of these solutions are not known in the mainstream," said Prof. Shukla.
Correspondingly, the conference has showcased such innovative examples like Goonj's work in recycling clothes, CRD's "Rickshaw Bank", Mann Deshi's bank which is run by illiterate rural women, or Pratham's Read India campaign etc and has helped reach these ideas to a wider audience.
"When we started in 2009, there weren't any forums which brought the stakeholders in the sector - the social entrepreneurs, development sector professionals, government agencies, academics and interested students - together. Our purpose was also to provide a common platform for them to come together, exchange views and experiences, and to build partnerships," added Prof. Shukla.
The theme for this year's conference was ‘Youth, Development & Social Entrepreneurship.' The three day conference started on the 28th of January saw an active participation from social entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, stakeholders, experts and practitioners alike.
The uniqueness of the conference was its interactive and informal nature. The idea behind this initiative is not to have an annual event but to facilitate development of a community of like-minded people in the sector. A community can be built up only if the design allows for two-way interactions, discovering common grounds and forming partnerships.
This is why not only the design of the sessions, but also the entire event was geared to facilitate interactions and conversations. For instance, the speakers/ resource persons and participants stayed in the same residential complex, had longer tea and lunch breaks, had evening forums for interactions, etc. - all these were conscious part of the design.
"While we invited some developmental/social sector professionals as the speakers and resource persons, even among the participants, we had professionals with long and rich experience in the sector. By making the conference more interactive, we also tried that their experience also becomes a part of the collective learning of the community," said Prof. Shukla.
Speakers at the conference included successful social entrepreneurs and practitioners (list of speakers). Participation from the youth was very high and in sync with the objective to make the youth aware of their social responsibilities.
"Youth is not mere a drop in the ocean; youth is the ocean in a drop - what we at Pravah do is to help young people discover that ocean in the drop," said Ashraf Patel, Founder, Pravah.
Thought provoking speeches by the likes of Anshu Gupta, Founder, GOONJ, Mujib Khan, Founder, Bhumi and Vishal Talreja, Founder, Dream a Dream inspired many young minds in the audience.
"When we talk of being the change we want to see in the world, it is not just "the world out there"; we are also talking about the corruption which is in there ourselves. Social change needs to start from personal transformation." - Mujeeb Khan.
The three day conference was also an eye opener to aspiring social entrepreneurs for the challenges of starting up. Solomon Jaya Prakash, Country Director, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, Manisha Gupta, Director, Start Up! And Vijay Shukla, Partner, Setu Ventures explained the strategies of starting a social enterprise.
"A Business Plan is not something which you write to get funding from others. It is like the layout of the house you would like to build and live in. Your B-plan should work along with your other operational plans," said Manisha Gupta.
For many young people and the "novice" to the sector, this was their first exposure to this sector. For them, the stories and solutions which the social entrepreneurs shared themselves were the major learning from the conference - in the sense of knowing that not only such solutions existed, but are also possible.
For many others, meeting other co-professionals the conference provided a meeting ground to learn from each others' experiences. They also explored the areas of collaboration and partnership.