“Any single social issue that you try to address has multiple facets and we believe that you need to work on creating collaborative platforms and leverage a diverse set of stakeholders to create significant impact.”
Brief introduction about yourself and tell us something about Samhita Social Ventures Pvt. Ltd?
I’ve worked across the spectrum of social entrepreneurship and financial consulting and helped incubate several social enterprises across the world before founding Samhita Social Ventures. I was privileged enough to get my Master’s Degrees from Yale and The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and work at the Poverty Action Lab at MIT. It was at MIT where I developed an interest in social entrepreneurship that started me on the journey that led to founding Samhita. I set up Samhita Social Ventures almost six years ago with the objective of empowering every individual and organization to learn about and create social change.
India is a very diverse and very complex place. Any single social issue that you try to address has multiple facets and we believe that you need to work on creating collaborative platforms and leverage a diverse set of stakeholders to create significant impact. Samhita, which means collective good in Sanskrit, is about building these long-term partnerships and scaling social impact.
In the midst of all this I’m also a struggling mother to a four-year-old son.
What inspires you to work for social causes and for the betterment of society-at-large?
Growing up I think there was always this strong sense within the whole family that you don’t take your privileges for granted. My grandfather was an orphan who came to Bombay with nothing. My father studied hard and did well for himself. My family history made me conscious of the fact that I was luckier than a lot of other people. There was this sense that your choice of profession or the way you conduct yourself in life, needs to be in such a way that you are creating a better world. It was ingrained within me that you always need to give back.
I find inspiration all around me. I am inspired by the efforts of people who tackle challenges, leverage opportunities and make this world a better place.
Please talk about your entrepreneurial journey as the Founder and Joint Managing Director of Samhita Social Ventures?
For me, getting into the social sector wasn’t something I planned, it happened gradually. I was part of a team at MIT that won 2 awards for Ideas and Innovation in business which is what first started me thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. Later when I was at Harvard, one of my professors just came up to me, told me that I should start a social enterprise and then gave me the money to do it! That amazing opportunity, at the age of 26, is what eventually led me to founding Samhita.
What led to the inception of Samhita? Should businesses in India focus more on CSR activities for holistic development?
The actual inception of Samhita can be traced to a conversation with N.S. Raghavan around 2009. We were talking about the fact that there were a lot of philanthropists that were doing really great things but not much was being done by businesses. We discussed the idea of developing a company that helped businesses do more than just donate money to causes, by leveraging their corporate strengths and expertise to change things for the better.
To answer the second question. Companies should see CSR as a great opportunity to contribute to tackling some of societies most challenging issues.
What are your views on the thought, that as compared to male counterparts, it’s harder and more struggling for females to make a mark professionally?
I don’t think that this is necessarily true for the social sector, though it might be true in the corporate sector. There are a lot of women leaders and entrepreneurs in this sector because I think it’s more oriented towards women. I think women are also drawn to the social sector because of their natural empathy. And unlike other sectors the social sector is very open. We always need help, we’re always open to receiving help, so we’re very willing to accept anyone who reaches out.
What piece of advice would you like to give to the aspiring youth who wish to pursue their dream of becoming an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is hard and you need to be really sure that you want to get into this field. While entrepreneurship has its share of highs, it is also a journey that is fraught with a series of boring, monotonous, tedious tasks as well as with times when it seems as if no one other than you believes in your idea and you need to be prepared for that. If you think that it’s going to be a 100% ideation and creative thinking then you’re not going to be very happy. You also need to take the time to learn. I wish I had spent more time learning from others before I became an entrepreneur. Becoming an entrepreneur requires you to be a master of all trades – business strategy, product development, sales and marketing, fund raising, HR, accounting, etc. The more experience you have before you become an entrepreneur, the more competent you will be as an entrepreneur. Most of all you need to understand the cost of failure. This advice is most relevant for social entrepreneurs because they are usually set up to serve the underprivileged. When a social entrepreneur fails, he stops delivering a critical service to a community that depends on him. I have seen instances of entrepreneurs who shut down their venture because they’re bored or facing a difficult situation. When you want to give up because things are looking bleak, stop for a moment and think of the impact your actions will have on those that have come to rely on you or your service.
According to you, what are the top three essential skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
I think you need to have a strong conviction in your idea and channel that to inspire the people in your team. Perseverance against the odds is also really important – and the drive and optimism that goes with it. Lastly, you need to be flexible. The reality is that your idea will not always turn out exactly as you envisioned it. A successful entrepreneur must learn to compromise on certain things – like the partners you work with or the extent and reach of your initiative – as long as you don’t compromise on the values and overall vision of your idea.
How do you manage the work-life balance?
I don’t think of my life as separated into different parts. Being an entrepreneur, your work cannot be easily compartmentalized like that. For me, it’s all part of life and to make things work you need to prioritize what’s important in both these spheres. It’s important to empower your team at work and build a support structure at home, so you have help in both areas because you can’t do everything – you need support at home and at work to make things work.
What are your views and opinions towards the ambiguous need to promote women entrepreneurship and women empowerment in India?
Currently there are a host of issues that affect or concern women that they don’t really have influence over. The current debate that’s going on in the US about abortion rights is worrying precisely because it’s mostly men that are making decisions about women’s bodies and drafting legislation about women’s rights. I think we need to empower women, give them a voice and allow them to come up with solutions to their own problems. We need a more women-centric approach to development and helping women become leaders and entrepreneurs is key to this. We need to allow women to identify problems, come up with their own solutions and implement them. For this to happen as a society we need to build better support structures to enable women to actively participate in entrepreneurial and development fields.