Is social entrepreneurship different from general entrepreneurship? I don’t think so.

It is festival time and ALTIUS 2011, a national techno-cultural of my college, NIT Kurukshetra is in full swing. I was really excited about an event called PRAYATTN, which was being organized to promote social entrepreneurship among the students. The prize money was really high so many people worked day in and day out to create social B-plans. But the event turned out to be completely opposite of what it was supposed to be.

The event was scheduled to start at 10 am. When the event didn’t start till 11 am, nobody in the crowd was surprised because it happens in most of the cases as the judges arrive late. When the judges of the event, who were also the sponsors, did finally arrive, they had a different agenda on their minds. They were called on stage to shed some light on social entrepreneurship. But they had come along with their own presentations. The lecture started on a very positive note. The speaker used cliche’s like “Don’t give fish to man, teach him how to fish” but the overall introduction of entrepreneurship was good. He started talking about his program which involves a train which goes all around India carrying students who are willing to learn social entrepreneurship. Apparently, they are taken to places where social entrepreneurs are working to improve the lives of poor and underpriviledged groups so that they can watch and learn how to do the same.

Personally, I find the concept of social entrepreneurship very strange. The only vision I get when I hear the word “Social Entrepreneur” is that of an IIT or IIM graduate going to a village and trying to improve the condition there. I appreciate the idea but sadly, there are more such villages than there are IIT-IIM graduates combined.

Let me get back to the event. Although the speakers were supposed to speak only for 5 minutes each, they decided to have it their own way and spoke at length about their organizations and how they were going to change India and how the youth can be a part of the action. Once the first speaker was done with, it was already 12 noon. I had fears that the event would be cancelled. A student sitting in front of me was biting his nails so hard he could have chewed his whole hand off. I asked him what the problem was and his answer was that he was taking part in the competition and had worked day in and day out to put up a good B-plan. He explained his B-plan to me and it was wonderful. I can’t tell you about his plan because it would be wrong to publish any details of the plan on the public domain.

He feared that the event might be cancelled because the speaker was too busy adverstising his campaign instead of doing what he was asked to do. That’s when it hit me…..they were actually doing exactly the opposite of what they were trying to do. I will explain why I think so later. To a large extent, it was also the fault of the organizers. They should have politely told them to get on with the show. which they didn’t.

The next speaker promised that he would only take 5 minutes of our time and repeated the same promise after 30 minutes. He talked at length about how today’s education system was creating slaves who knew nothing about what the end result of their efforts would be. The best part of his speech was the part where he said that coders at companies at Microsoft and Google don’t know where their code is going to be used and how their efforts are being measured in terms of lines of code per man hour instead of the effectiveness and usefulness of that code. I totally agree. As an aspiring software engineer, I think that coding is just the means to an end. Its not that I don’t like coding, but I will always copy code from the internet or use a GUI based software which supplies the equivalent code for a task whenever I get the opportunity. When the program is too customized, I will willing and happily code my way out of the situation.

One of the key points of his address was when he asked the crowd if they had any innovative ideas that they would like to pursue after their graduation.

No real entrepreneur will tell another aspiring entrepreneur to explain his ideas informally in front of a hall full of people where there is no documentation or proof that it was his idea.

After a group started clapping at a point that was not meant to be funny, the speaker got the message and finally ended the long ordeal. The venue of the event was shifted to a classroom in our electrical department, I repeat, a classroom in our electrical engineering department. Back to the part where I was going to say why I think they are doing opposite of what they are really supposed to do.

I will need some background to put the story in context. In my college, the biggest hall is “The Jubilee Hall”. Only the biggest events are conducted in The Jubilee Hall. Needless to say, these events take lots of hard work and the fear of failure and the taste of success is the largest. The event had to be shifted to the classroom because another event was scheduled to start at the Jubilee Hall by the time. Making them work hard enough to get into a Jubilee Hall event and then stripping them of the opportunity of presenting it there (knowingly or unknowingly) was wrong. I don’t think any student who took part in the event will want to become an entrepreneur now. I am so glad I decided to skip it.

Although I was waiting very eagerly for the event today morning, I didn’t have the strength to go to watch the event after what happened. It is an encouraging fact that there are people like these who are trying to do some good work, especially through sustainable entrepreneurial ventures and not through distribution of clothes and food. But what I saw today is proof that we still don’t get it. Although social entrepreneurship is a noble concept, I am still not convinced about its success in the big picture.

A good IIT graduate architect will serve the society more by building a skyscraper than by building a hundred huts.

Every entrepreneur is a social hero, doesn’t matter if he is working in a village or at the heart of New Delhi.

But an extremely healthy discussion with a very worthy competitor in my room has now caused me to put a clause in my definition of entrepreneur to justify my statements:

  • An entrepreneur is someone who creates value, not wealth. The value may or may not be in the form of material wealth. Value is what a prospective buyer will be willing to pay for the ownership of the enterprise in a free market transaction.

    Let me simplify this. Suppose a person cheats people and the earnings of his enterprise go through the roof. Although wealth has been created, value hasn’t because in a free market, an intelligent prospective buyer who does some research will not be willing to buy the enterprise for a high price.

  • A social entrepreneur is not an entirely different kind of entrepreneur. She is an entrepreneur who chooses, through her free will, to donate the value she creates to the society.

After defining social entrepreneurship as a special case of entrepreneurship in general and by specifying the clause of value-creation, I think the ethical questions I was facing regarding the issue have calmed down. If you have different views, feel free to share them in the comments.
I must admit, what I wrote in the first few paragraphs was very naive, but I still feel an extended definition of entrepreneurship can account for social entrepreneurship too.


One comment

  1. Prashanth R · · Reply

    Great work

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