Catalyzing livelihoods

Most social organisations have their goals set regarding what they want to help society with. While there are many causes to address, Social Venture Partners (India) has picked jobs and income enhancement as its focus area. The reason is simple. “We see the jobs challenge as one of the more significant challenges faced by every country, especially India,” says Ravi Venkatesan, managing partner, Unitus Seed Fund and former chairman, Microsoft India. According to Venkatesan, after the boom years of 2005-10, job creation, particularly the big IT job engine, actually slowed down over the last few years. Now, its jobless growth.

The idea is to create jobs. So when SVP India recently hosted the Million Jobs Mission Conclave, it brought together 15 of India’s social organizations, and over 50 consortium partners to collaborate on creating 1 million jobs in the next five years. The Conclave showcased these 15 social organizations, who presented their model to create a cumulative of 100,000+ sustainable livelihoods each, in the next five years. Over 100 participants from SVP’s consortium partners – representing foundations, corporates, impact investors, global multilateral agencies, consulting organizations, Government, and academia – actively engaged with these organizations and made commitments of support – from access to funding, strategic inputs, leadership development, go-to-market connects and governance/Board support. According to Atul Satija, co-founder of The Nudge Foundation, “It would have taken me four months of travel to meet some of these consortium partners to support our goal. Today, I got them all in one room, engaging in serious conversation with us on how to go forward. What more could I have asked for!”

Madan Padaki, co-founder & trustee of Head Held High Foundation and co-convener of the Million Jobs Mission (MJM), is pleased with the outcome. “We never expected this level of participation. Just shows that the idea and concept was so powerful,” he says.

Says Sanjukyta Rajguru, MD & CEO, SBI Foundation, “The conclave exposed me to a panorama of work that these social organizations are doing – some I already knew of, and many I didn’t – and these will help me make more informed decisions. Now that I know, I can think of many ways funders like us can reach credible organizations and beneficiaries”

Initially, modest grants were a way of getting started. However, the organisation needed to punch at the right altitude. A mission statement was crafted – to help create 1 million jobs in the next five years. And create a movement with 1,000 engaged philanthropists across India in the same time frame.

Let’s step back a bit. Who is SVP? Well, SVP is a philanthropic organisation that was started in Seattle, USA, in 1998, by ex-Microsoft employees, Tim Sharpman and Paul Schumacker. It is the world’s largest network of engaged philanthropists, with over 3,500 investor-donors across 39 cites, in eight countries (U.S, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea and United Kingdom).

In India, Social Venture Partners India was founded in May, 2012 in Bengaluru by Venkatesan. He asked like-minded people to get their toes wet, and start their philanthropic journey. So SVP began by copy-pasting what was done in the US to India. After the positive response that it got in Bengaluru (they have 90 partners), branches were started in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and most recently, in Hyderabad. Today the SVP Bangalore chapter is chaired by Jogin Desai, CEO, EyeStem; the Pune chapter is chaired by Ganesh Natarajan, chairman, 5F World; the Mumbai chapter is chaired by Govind Iyer, MD, Egon Zehnder; the Delhi chapter by Rajeev Bakshi, MD, Metro Cash and Carry India, and the Hyderabad chapter by Ajit Rangnekar, former Dean of Indian School of Business.

Venture Philanthropy is very different from philanthropy that is practised more broadly, which is simply called `cheque book’ philanthropy – you write a cheque, you give money towards something you feel good about, or an organisation that is doing work that you identify with. SVP does more that. It picks organisations that are doing work that is scalable, and it engages with them in the same manner as venture capitalists engage with portfolio companies. They don’t just provide money, but far more importantly, they provide expertise and time and access to its networks, etc.

SVP India’s national focus is to make a dent in poverty through catalyzing livelihoods at the bottom of the pyramid. It focuses on organizations that work to promote livelihoods – be it through income augmentation, vocational skills training and placement, or micro-enterprise development. The key areas of investment are micro enterprises, skill training, health livelihoods, agri-livelihoods and waste management.

Though in the social space there is a lot of work happening in cylos, the MJM is a way to convene and bring all the like-minded organisations together to work collaboratively. For the last four years, SVP India has been quietly incubating what is becoming a movement bringing together successful people who care about what is happening in society, finding a way for them to get engaged. While till now what it has done has been largely below the radar, it is now important that it gets a lot more awareness and engagement.