Shravya Nalla: Empowering Small-Town Kids to Dream Big

Daring young minds to dream and helping them chase those dreams can be quite a task. NRI Shravya Reddy’s search for contentment brought her back home to change lives. Although life threw many challenges at her, her dream was to make it possible to empower teachers and students in her hometown to transform education.

Born and brought up in a middle-class family in Nizamabad, Shravya grew up as an insecure person but decided to change herself by getting out of town and joining BITS-Pilani, Rajasthan. During that period, she started Project Saksham in an effort to bring economic empowerment to rural women. Though the project failed, it set her on the path to social change. After graduation, Shravya joined Schlumberger as a field engineer and co-founded the Grassroutes Fellowship program aimed at encouraging the youth to become rural entrepreneurs, but the program failed to scale its operations.

22-shravyanallaShravya continued to work for Schlumberger and moved across three continents. She soon realized that she had joy and happiness, but was nowhere close to feeling content despite all the good that was happening in her professional and personal life. She felt that the biggest problem plaguing the Indian education system was that we get done with all the education and then start learning. She also felt that parents tend to ensure that they are picking safe career options for their daughters, limiting their exposure to the world.

A trip to her mother’s school in Nizamabad changed everything. Shravya knew what she wanted to do- use education to change lives. She launched the Presidency High School and Presidency Kids Preschools, to offer an alternative approach to education in Nizamabad and tier-2 regions.

“Everyone has the freedom to dream and make it big. It takes a lot of struggle and a lot of pain for you to sustain to change those dreams into reality. After working in different countries, we wanted to do something meaningful and challenging, to do something which is very close to my heart. I am hoping our dream to change the education system in Nizamabad and tier-2 towns will be a reality someday,” says Shravya.

At present, Shravya is working with the vision to make learning fun and intuitive for both students and teachers. She is also working to embed technology into education through initiatives such as tablet-based education. “Technology has the power to transform the one size fits all approach of instruction into a more bespoke learning experience. Complex and abstract concepts can be explained better with simulations. We are using app-based learning to teach kids spelling, vocabulary, and algebra,” she says.

Asadeep : Providing Employment to Disabled People

To avail employment opportunities in India is a big challenge for physically challenged people. Technology has reached new heights, inventing many intelligent devices and equipment that aid disabled people but a large section still remain unemployed. Societal barriers, discrimination, lack of mainstream educational opportunities, poverty, lack of awareness, reach to assistive technologies, and other barriers prevent disabled people from entering competitive career fields and leave most uneducated people without access to jobs.

Aasadeep is a social entrepreneurial company that is trying to solve this problem by overcoming employment barriers for more than eighty million challenged people. It solves this problem by giving a solution to yet another big environmental problem- pollution. It manufactures high quality customized eco-friendly disposable consumer products and reducing the use of plastics and styrofoam products that are the major cause of pollution. It makes reasonably priced eco-friendly products using recycled paper and agricultural waste. Established in December 2012, it has partnered with Kakatiya Sandbox to help disabled people get employment.

kks-7Born blind, Srikanth shares, “When I was at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I had two options before me. One was to settle down in the US and lead a lavish life, or fight the system. I suffered back home. I chose the latter. That’s the quality of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to have a vision and be willing to sacrifice. We realized that most companies in India were not hiring disabled people. We started Aasadeep Projects.”

Started business as a partnership owned firm, the company is involved in manufacturing and supplying a huge assortment of printed paper cups, disposable paper cups, wrinkled paper plates, printed disposable plates, packaging films, disposable cups, disposable plates, paper plates and more.

Srikanth also shared, “We aim to provide employment to over 80 million disabled people in our country by 2020. Indias consumer packaging industry is over $30 billion. We have 5 plants across India, employing around 450 people and 60% of them are disabled in some way or the other. It is very satisfying. Social entrepreneurship is all about impacting the broader world.”

Entrepreneurs are Change-Makers, says Dr Deshpande

Entrepreneurship when directed to prevalent social problems, can also be a great way to achieve development. The Sandbox works on this idea of people-led development driven by passionate, mission-driven individuals. Multiple programs managed by the Sandbox work to support and enable such individuals, and companies driven by social goals, to achieve the desired impact.

The founders of the Sandbox model believe in the power of entrepreneurship to transform the world around us. A world that embraces entrepreneurship as a way of life can be free of problems, according to Sandbox founder, Dr Desh Deshpande. “The world needs 75 million entrepreneurs to really run the economy over the next ten years. India needs 10 million entrepreneurs. There has to be entrepreneurship everywhere,” he said at the keynote session of Development Dialogue held in Nizamabad.

17828235144_089a31b635_z-1According to Dr Deshpande, lasting societal change can happen through entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurs are real change makers. An entrepreneur thinks about something that he does not like in the world and he thinks of an opportunity: a new product, a new service, a new way to socially organize. He does not just leave it at the idea stage, but actually makes that idea happen.The Sandbox works to enable people within communities to become entrepreneurial. The founding goal is to make entrepreneurship a way of life,” says Dr Deshpande.

The approach of the Sandbox is to enable entrepreneurs to create replicable success for solutions, within a given market. Once an entrepreneur validates the viability of a product/ service in a market, he can expand his market and reach a wider audience. “If the solution works in one place, make it work in more places. Once the impact of the solution becomes obvious, it is for the government to take the model and replicate in more places,” he said about his vision for scalable models of social development.

The Beauty of Entrepreneurship is the Empowerment it Brings: Dr Deshpande

The magic of entrepreneurship is that it unfolds new territories in one’s persona, and empowers people to do extraordinary things. It expands the horizons of one’s capacities and helps to fully exploit hidden capabilities within a person. Beyond leading to financial stability and revenue generation, entrepreneurship opens up new possibilities within a person’s potential, according to Sandbox founder, Dr Desh Deshpande.

24454674740_dce4ce2ca9_zDr Deshpande was speaking at the keynote session of the Development Dialogue at Nizamabad when he dwelled on the benefits of entrepreneurship beyond its revenue implications.“The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it opens up a lot of capabilities within you that you didn’t have. Ability to take on a mission and do something makes us feel like our own capabilities are expanding, he said.

The Sandbox itself works on cultivating an entrepreneurial vigor among the people it works with. While fostering entrepreneurship is intrinsic to Sandbox programs such as Startups, other initiatives work on building a can-do attitude and proactive problem-solving approach among participants.

According to Dr Deshpande, the aim of Deshpande Foundation was to instill a spirit of entrepreneurship among people to make them realize their true potential.”When we were thinking of doing something good through Deshpande Foundation, we realized that the biggest gift we could give to the people was to make them feel that they were a lot more capable. It is to make ordinary people do extraordinary things.”

“I am a big believer that you have to create opportunities for experiential learning in entrepreneurship. Once people experience the rush of entrepreneurship, it is just so empowering that people will do nothing but be entrepreneurial. The thing about entrepreneurship is: every year when you look back, you can say: I didn’t know I could do that!”Dr Deshpande had earlier said in a television interview.

Scaling is Crucial to Social Ventures, says Raju Reddy

Achieving maximum impact for social enterprises translates to achieving maximum scale. Scale becomes imperative for social ventures for many reasons: for one, it makes the venture visible and credible. Secondly, achieving scale simply means that more people enjoy the benefits of an initiative. Given India’s dense and growing demographics, scaling to amplify is a basic necessity for social enterprises based in the country.

The founder of Kakatiya Sandbox, Raju Reddy pointed out that unless social innovations touch a large population, it is unlikely that they are going to make a meaningful impact. Whatever you do in the social entrepreneurship space, it has to scale. “India is a country of 1.2 billion people. Unless you touch a large population, you are not going to make a meaningful difference,” he said.

24657182971_71a05c0e3e_zThe Kakatiya Sandbox, adapted from the Hubli Sandbox to help the proximate regions of Nizamabad, Medak, and Karimnagar works on the successful model of development demonstrated by the former. The Sandbox works to deliver impact through sustainable and scalable models that are furthered through people participation.

In following the prototype of the Hubli Sandbox, the Kakatiya Sandbox primarily borrows twin aspects of the Sandbox: the bottom-up approach of social development, which means that social development is conceived and propagated within beneficiary communities at the grass root levels before being scaled up. “It means that unless people living in rural areas are a part of the solution, development is not going to be sustainable,” Raju reiterated.

The Sandbox also works on the principle that the way to solve social challenges is by introducing an entrepreneurial zeal to the functioning of social enterprises. “The Sandbox brings the rigor of for-profit world and the entrepreneurial mindset to addressing social challenges,” Raju said, speaking at the keynote session of the Kakatiya Sandbox in Nizamabad.

Better Cotton Initiative: Popularizing Cotton Farming in India

Farming in India has primarily been a sustenance-driven activity, with farmers sticking primarily to traditional crops, including cash crops like maize, paddy, jowar, and wheat to generate a livelihood. However, given the challenges that agriculture face in the country — poor rainfall, unfair pricing and a lack of scientific guidelines — having multiple avenues of income can greatly improve the farming community.

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The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is an international program that Deshpande Foundation and IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative partnered to popularize profitable, high quality cotton cultivation in Telangana. The program works with cotton farmers to improve the productivity of cotton farmers and to share scientific practices.

The BCI program has already created a significant impact in the Sandbox region, resulting in a 60% boost in income levels of 15,000 farmers, and improving cotton cultivation in afarming area of nearly 3706 acres.

The program works by bringing together all the elements of cottons supply chain, from the farmers to the retailers. The aim is to make high quality cotton a mainstream farming commodity in the region through environment-friendly, scientific methods. BCI and the Foundation offer farmers direct market linkages, avenues of economic seed procurement and training on scientific methods.

Currently, the program is active among farmers in Karimnagar and Medak regions. Farmers are roped in and screened through gram sabhas on the basis of criteria such as their financial standing, area of cultivation and location. They are introduced to the concept of BCI, and connected to vendors of quality seeds. Involved farmers are also trained on the best scientific practices, and offered direct market linkages with ginners, helping them get rid of middlemen in the sale.

Social Innovation is Driven by Relevance and Participation

The Sandbox works on the premise that entrepreneurship driven by the relevance of a business idea for a specific context as pivotal can be a powerful tool for those who want to change the world. The popular idea is that for community development, choosing the right developmental project for a given context is said to be the most crucial step towards success.

24122686503_fed4d9ab0e_zExperts say that entrepreneurship, whether social or profit-driven, is more about doing the right thing to solve a problem in a community and less about chasing market demand.”Entrepreneurship is not about the market, frozen market, demand etc. It’s about what to do when.It’s doing right things at the right time,” Pavan Peechara, CEO of Adaequare said at the recent Development Dialogue at the Kakatiya Sandbox, Nizamabad.

Advocates of social innovation emphasize on the relevance of involving all the stakeholders of development to achieve impact while conceiving, executing and scaling a social project. This means that the beneficiaries of development work, the government as well as private players who drive developmental activities, should all collaborate to achieve the desired impact at the grassroots level, according to Balaraju, Dairy Milk Entrepreneur. Speaking at a session titled stewards of soil at the summit, he said, “Four Ps – Public, Private, People & Participation – are important to make an impact through entrepreneurship.”

The Sandbox itself is driven by the zeal to enable delivery of context-specific solutions to social problems. In the words of Dr Desh Deshpande, social innovation happens when relevance precedes and meets innovation to deliver impact. To quote him, “Social innovation starts with compassion, and then you bring creative ideas. The ideas that you apply to solve certain problems do not have to be patentable, the first time in the world, have a huge competitive advantage, and so on.”