Interview with Dr Shailesh Modi

What is your role?

I work at EDII. It was set up in 1983. It’s a pioneering institution, the main objective being promoting entrepreneurship in India. In the last two decades it’s diversified into entrepreneurship education and we have moved into social enterprise.

The government of India is going to launch an ambitious entrepreneurship programme, which will include a significant component of social entrepreneurship. Plus, there is this British Council Project titled Mainstreaming Social Entrepreneurship and Education in India. It’s focused at undergraduate and post-graduate level.

There is tremendous flexibility though as it does not have to be a full time course or a degree. A capsule of social entrepreneurship can be embedded in other courses. There is no fixed format or structure about it. The intention is to make a beginning on the social entrepreneurship front.

How do you define social enterprise?

In simple terms I would define it in two ways. One, it is an enterprise that addresses a social need and is expected to make modest profit. Profit is important as is modest.

At another level, there can be an organisation that addresses a social problem in an entrepreneurial and market-driven way. It is still structured like an enterprise.

So it is very different to charity?

In terms of development we have not reached the stage where we can expect there would not be any philanthropy. A measure of philanthropy should not be disqualified.

What kind of training do you offer?

Presently we are thinking in terms of education and I would draw a line of distinction between education and training. When people say training it’s often in relation to people who have half-made up their mind or are practicing social entrepreneurs.

The beginning we make with education and then add training soon thereafter. We are working on a curriculum on modules like ‘what is social entrepreneurship and other areas including business plans and funding. There is a team currently working on appropriate learning resources which we expect to be completed in 1.5 months.

What obstacles are there, particularly in India, in providing this kind of education?

The demand is one. The body of social enterprises is not yet large enough. Currently most of them have been set up by very well educated people, often with foreign degrees. They are prosperous and secure and have accessed social impact funds from abroad.

The other thing is that there is a set of individual innovators in India who have a desire to set up a social enterprise but their personal profile is high and, to help in this area, it would be a social climb-down for them.

What are the challenges working with British organisations and the benefits?

The key here is that there is a strong education system. The idea behind collaboration is to draw from the rich British experience in the realm of education and social entrepreneurship in particular.

How sufficient is government support?

Until recently it has been extremely negligible in the sense that in India there is no government policy around social enterprises. Recently a policy was announced with limited meat to it.

Most government effort is going to be in promotion action rather than policy action like tax breaks or funding.

We expect to train over 2000 social entrepreneurs in the next five years. We expect the government to be very active on the promotional front.

What do people expect from the training?

It depends a great deal on the personal background. If a guy is working in the development of the voluntary sector, he’s identified a need or problem and has worked on a solution, but he’s not well versed in the business part of it, doesn’t know how to crunch numbers etc.

He would probably expect to learn about this, and to get a measure of post-training support, guidance, mentoring etc.

Where the training is concerned, it is often gaps in the trainees personal background and post-programme support.