Milaap had the opportunity to attend this year’s Sankalp Summit as nominees in the Technology for Development category, and we had an amazing and insightful time. The theme of the event was “Convergence”. Here’s what we learned from the conference.
The key point that stood out was that capitalism as it is now, or as it has been before, is no longer working, with 0.5% of the world’s population controlling 38% of its assets. In India, 55 people account for 1/6 of the GDP, all pointing to stark inequalities. The panelists gave various insights: that capitalism needs to be regulated, and that capitalism needs to evolve to its next stage so as to remain relevant. It was also noted that capitalism is relatively young when compared to past systems such as feudalism, which lasted over 1,000 years. Capitalism is only 200 years old, so to say that it is dead would be to get ahead of ourselves.
On Agriculture, Food and Rural Business
The aim of this session was to investigate how to bolster rural livelihoods through effective collaboration. Mark Khan intimated that VC is the most expensive form of return known, and may not be the best source for agriculture related social enterprise. It also came out that there was little understanding of the rural market by many entrepreneurs. Dr. Ghuja of Agri Sri also mentioned that the biggest challenge would be improving productivity of land, water and labour.
On Clean Energy and Technology
This session looked at how to free energy from the grid by fostering off-grid solutions to power rural India. We learned that the Indian ecosystem is much better than that of other countries in the rural areas, as there are 40,000 banks in rural areas. Vijay Naju of ONergy intimated that peer-to-peer learning is the most valuable part of incubation and capacity building.
On what investors look for in a start-up
Milaap attended ET Now’s Pick of Sankalp, where 4 selected entrepreneurs got to pitch their products to a 3 member panel and get evaluated. We saw pitches from Invention Labs, Ampere Vehicles, Driptech and Eram Scientific. It came out that investors look for potential for growth, modest investments, quality and market share as detailed in this post.
On The Urban Business Model Conundrum
The urban poor are a neglected segment when it comes to social enterprise, because it is a general thought that since they live in urban areas, they can’t really be poor, right? The government, NGOs and microfinance cater to the rural poor. What about the urban poor? The session was an effort to challenge that. As expected, quality education was mentioned as key to poverty alleviation. The urban poor were also found to be the most upwardly mobile poor, and greater opportunities for enterprise were seen in the urban slums as opposed to rural areas. It was also mentioned that because the government still speaks in terms of caste, there are negative consequences for otherwise caste-neutral urban environments.
On Technology for Development
This session explored how technology can be even more relevant and useful for development than it is now. The first question that was asked was “What’s working and why?” Solutions that were relevant, easy to use, mobile based and inclusive were found to work best. Technology creators were also asked to be technology enablers.
Ronnie Screwala, Founder Chairman of UTV Group and Vikram Akula, Founder & ex-Chairperson, SKS Microfinance did the gurumantras. They were inspiring, and said very memorable things. For example, Screwala noted that agriculture lacked sex appeal, and thought that if there were a mandatory rural service for young Indians, they would come back with a business plan for life. He also said that social enterprises should strive to create a legacy.
Vikram talked about the lessons he had learned, this being his first public address since leaving SKS. He found that the 3 problems that prevented microfinance from scaling included finance, capacity building and high transaction costs, and that the answer was commercial investors, business discipline and technology. He also mentioned 3 key lessons for the future, annotated as the 3 Cs.
- Culture: culture or values are what differentiate a social enterprise from other enterprise.
- Code of conduct: these are the rules that supplement the culture.
- Control: the ability to keep control of the direction of the organization despite having multiple stakeholders with multiple agendas is key for success.
More on what happened on Day 1 can be found here.