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From across the world, they took a train ride to study social entrepreneurs

That internship was the beginning of Sharma’s affair with India’s growing social sector.

Written by AMRUTA LAKHE | Mumbai |
January 17, 2015 1:51:09 am
social entrepreneurs,  India social sector, Innovative business, Project Potential Zubin Sharma (left) and Taylor Quinn, international participants at the recently-concluded Jagriti Yatra. (Source: IE photo by Pradnyesh MoLak)

WHEN he was 20, Zubin Sharma, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, read about Husk Power Systems.

It was an organisation based in Bihar that was training local people to use the waste product — husk  — to generate electricity in off-grid areas.

This unique model gave villagers the access to decentralised electricity using local resources. “I was so excited about the model that I kept emailing them till they responded one day: ‘Thanks for your emails and enthusiasm. You are most welcome to do your internship with us,” recalls Sharma.

That internship was the beginning of Sharma’s affair with India’s growing social sector. It brought him to India two years back, and today Sharma has no plans of returning. Based in Bihar’s Kishanganj, he runs an organisation called Project Potential.

“We elect people from villages and train them to become leaders. Through them we launch campaigns related to education, health and energy.” Like Sharma, many budding entrepreneurs from abroad, are fascinated with success stories of Indian social sector and business models.

He was one of the 28 international participants of the recently-concluded Jagriti Yatra that carried 450 entrepreneurs on an 8,000-km journey in middle India to take a closer look at successful business models in tier II and III cities. Another Yatra participant from Canada, 22-year-old Taylor Quinn explains why many young entrepreneurs like him are drawn to India.

“With some of the most innovative business ideas and models coming from the country, all the attention of the social enterprise is on India,” says Quinn.

According to Sharma, in the last few years, entrepreneurs have changed the way the social sector is perceived.

For instance, Ashoka Foundation’s CEO Bill Drayton has provided a networking platform for social workers worldwide that has helped familiarise people with social entrepreneurship. Similarly, international fellowships such as Echoing Green and Draper Kaplan Richards, encourage students to hone their entrepreneurial skills. After the fellowship, many opt to implement their ideas in countries such as India and China.

“The Indian market is huge. If you’re an entrepreneur from anywhere in the world, you’re looking at a potential market of 1.2 billion people,” Sharma said. China has the numbers too, he adds, but India is more open to start-ups.

Peruvian Guillermo Teran sees the entrepreneurial potential of India in its diversity. He has carefully made a note of the eight different religions, more than 750 languages and diversity in terms of food, clothes, traditions and mindsets.

“These are the most valuable resource of a country and an opportunity to learn about leadership, business and human behaviour. I am taking back these values of how to work with diversity, to apply them to my projects and business ideas,” says Teran.

Impressed by Rajasthan’s Barefoot College, which empowers villagers by training them to become doctors and solar engineers, Teran wants to replicate a self-sustaining education system in Peru.

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