Unnati: Transforming Lives

Raghunandan, a young lad, in his twenties from Doddaballapur, used to lead a life of struggle.  With no earning members except his father, who is a tailor, he had to quickly support his family of 3 sisters and parents. He was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English that he could not complete. All through school, he studied in the Kannada medium, which made it difficult for him to cope up during his undergrad years. At this point in his life, he read about Unnati in a newspaper article and joined its 16th batch.  Raghunandan joined SLK BPO Services back in 2013. Today he has moved on to HR roles in the same organization; earns a decent income and leads a much improved quality of life.

There are numerous such stories of young men and women who have given a new meaning to their lives.

Laxmi's experiences at Unnati
Testimonial of a trainee (click to enlarge)

They have equipped themselves with essential life skills to negotiate a successful path for themselves professionally and personally.  (Find more stories here).  The critical catalyst in this transformation is “Unnati“.

Unnati,an initiative of SGBS Trust, was started in Oct 2003 with the purpose of enabling underprivileged, unemployed youth to get employed. Its purpose of existence is defined as: “To help unemployed youth become employable so that they go from being dependent and discouraged to being Independent and empowered.”

Unnati-Program-Overview “Unnati runs a 50 day vocational training program offered at a subsidized cost to the less educated, unemployed and economically backward youth with an assured job at the end of the training period. Unnati enables inclusive growth by empowering families below poverty line.  Training is offered for the following vocations:

Core Vocations
Core Vocations

Unnati has trained and facilitated employment for more than 10000 youth nationwide since its inception.  It’s 55th batch has recently commenced. If you know of youths who will benefit from this training, you can direct them to the Unnati Center in Sadananadanagar, Bangalore.  Mr. A.S. Narayanan, Trustee and Director, Unnati says, “There are no minimum qualification criteria for the program. All are welcome. The hunger to learn is enough.”    Unnati operates multiple centers across Karanataka, Tamilnadu, Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat. It has ambitious plans of scaling across many more locations, including north-eastern states of India.

Unnati is a wonderful example of a social enterprise defining a sustainable business model for profitable growth and transformative social impact. Be inspired !

If you are a social enterprise OR are aware of other impactful social enterprises, please join us on Entirelyso! . You can also write to us on entirelyso@gmail.com.

Social Enterprise Leadership Team

Who should be on your journey to become a successful social enterprise? This provides a precise description for building your Social Enterprise Leadership Team..

You know you’ve got the right person filling a leadership role when…
Evangelist
z He secures a $35,000 donation from a philanthropist who happens to be sitting next to him on a flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix.
z She has a purse cluttered with business cards that rarely get loaded into Outlook, but she can remember each encounter with uncanny precision.
z He can convince skeptics not only of the value of what his organization is doing, but also why the issue is critical, converting skeptics into believers in just minutes.
z She sends one-line e-mails at obscure times of the day and night, many of them ending with “This is why what we are doing is so important!” Continue reading “Social Enterprise Leadership Team”

Full-time Management!

Many social businesses and non-profit organizations are started by passionate individuals with a desire to do something good to the society in their own small/big way. Though they commit a certain amount of funds to bootstrap and support, most of them find it hard to bite the bullet of finding and letting someone manage this full-time, as a focused business. No for-profit business will approach it this way. This is yet another key difference.

There are several social businesses with promoters managing it part-time or having someone do so. Though they might feel that is not affordable to have someone manage this full-time, soon they will realize they can not afford not to! Sooner they find this out, it is better for the organization and the purpose they have crafted it for.

Recruit, Right!

One tendency of bootstrapped social businesses is to rely too much on passion of the founders and select few volunteers, than the experience relevant to the product/service and the domain where the organization chooses to operate. Like any successful business, the difference comes from the right people – folks with relevant and really significant experience in the domain. They carry lot wealth of knowledge and would have experienced typical cycles and characteristics of the business/technical domain. Combining their expertise in the field with the purpose of social impact will help in building a business model that is more likely to succeed from the start than other experiments waiting for some accidents for a nice flight.

For instance, a renewable energy product/service company will have to deal with a vacuum effect of either a big non-serviceable first order or a trickle of unsustainable random business; or a product /concept that is great on paper but fails to take-off for next ten years due to technology maturity or hits a roadblock due to a government subsidy policy…. Recruiting right talent for key positions from the renewable or energy generation/supply/distribution industry, chief technology officer with decades of experience in the energy management and/or a domain expert in energy business will help this social enterprise greatly.

SWOT based capability building is one mechanism to identify and fill key positions with right talent from the industry. If not done already, go for it and refresh your business model…

Quality Assurance!

Making sure that the product or service your social enterprise uses as a vehicle to create the chosen social impact is right! This is a tough challenge for any social business given that they have to overcome the obstacle of always having new customers and employees! When you are dealing with a customer, he/she will not necessarily care that you are a non-profit. What matters to them is the quality of the treatment they receive. They are here on the promise you made them – through your product / service. Keeping the promise is the simple ask in any relationship – critical for a social business as the bad experience travels faster than the good – checking the very purpose of the enterprise.

Quality control through continuous inspection, training and feedback analysis coupled with proactive measures of product/service design clearly focused on the quality of service is very critical aspect of the business model design for social enterprises. Provisions for quality assurance at all stages of product/service design and delivery will add to the sustainability factor of the enterprise and help creating compelling value for all stakeholders.

Be Local!

Yes. For a social business the simplest strategy for sustainability comes from being close, relevant and significant to their stakeholders. Social Needs, actions to create an impact and making sure that it is significant enough to permanently move them to next better state of living, requires every element of the social business to be local.

If you are planning a social business or expansion of your enterprise’s reach, make sure that you take only your business knowledge, capability building expertise and financial resources to the place you want the organization to operate. Every other element including infrastructure, staff and business model should be developed or customized for the local need.

Building an ecosystem around your enterprise purely based on the local resources and ambassadors provides the confidence to the stakeholders that you are here for a long-term and they have a hope of living on this great idea, for a longer time, may be on their own.

Sustainability of any enterprise is directly proportional to its ability to learn and develop continuously and organically. Planting a tree in a new place requires the ground work as before, but the nutrients, procedure for growth and upkeep – finely tuned to where it is being planted.

Confidentiality

It is a big thing. This has to be one of the core values of any social enterprise. Every for-profit business signs or executes client confidentiality in one way or the other. That makes the company provide the necessary confidence and shield that is so critical for being able to survive and stay ethical. Social enterprises with primary focus on social impact should never lose focus of this aspect of business.

In several instances of heroic style of operations, many social businesses consider the impact they create to individuals as a vehicle to achieve more for their own brand or their company’s image in the market. Showcasing videos, case studies, pictures of recipients and similar acts of publicity though provides a huge coverage of the impact a social business is creating, there are chances of compromise to privacy, dignity and other social status issues for the beneficiaries. Additionally, operational infrastructure being too simple and just enough to support the business needs, social enterprises might not prioritize investments in terms of infrastructure, training and other compliance measures required to maintain the confidentiality aspect of their customers to the highest level.

Every serious social business owner will have to include confidentiality as one of the main core values of their enterprise and hence ensure it gets the required attention in all aspects of its existence and functioning.

You can’t make people change!

It is true. You can’t do it for them….If you don’t agree with this, it can be a good source of frustration, certainly for yourself and for your organization.

“You know, We’re doing all this for you, come on, why aren’t you your life around? We can only provide the opportunity and support.” This is a common grouse with many first time social entrepreneurs. Like first time parents passionate to bring-up their kids in a great way, this is natural.

The fact is – the world existed before you embarked on this journey and will continue to exist – in its own natural way. To bring up a change, we volunteered to do this, for whatever drove us to this,  it is important that we change first. Like a purely for-profit business that is started with a purpose of making wealth for its stakeholders, social enterprise is also an organization born by the interest of a few passionate folks like you. It is important that you take every step required to make any business successful, more diligently here.

You surely can’t make people change – but you can show how they can and what will happen if they did! We are just trying to find and place puzzle pieces to see a dream of equality in this world – purely voluntarily! Live your dream and let others do the same!

~

Seasonality!

Unlike most for-profit businesses that have a target to survive every season, specially focused social business have a seasonality associated with their business function. Many enterprises that recognize this aspect of their domain act smartly to be effective when they are required to function. If you are planning or running a social enterprise, consider validating the seasonality as a critical success factor and design your business accordingly.

For instance, your organization’s purpose is to help eradication of poverty via literacy programs in a village, check the patterns of farming – sowing to cultivation & distribution. Every village has developed over a period of time the kind of crops they grow and the timing of the year. Depending on this, their availability to participate in your programs and benefit, they will look for opportunities to adjust their attendance based on their time commitments than your program mandate. Careful study of their availability will provide you all necessary timing, resources and channels required to make the program successful. This might in turn mean that your enterprise will function only for a few months in a year.

Using the time spread based on the seasonality of your business, design the organization right from staffing, learning, funding, communicating and rejuvenating activities to programs to offer. This will help improve the business efficiency and the social impact you wish to create.

Careful growth!

Social enterprises should watch and moderate their growth. Unlike business power-houses living from quarter to quarter, Social Businesses require a firm focus on the impact they have agreed to create for the society in a way the value and the business is sustainable and self-healing – all the time! You can only be as big as the number of people you impact immediately. It includes your own staff, the target customers and the operational boundaries defined by the cash flows of the company.

For instance, if your social enterprise is dealing with healthcare and clean drinking water project, the first thing you have to do is make sure your customers are regular for the check-ups and take medicine as prescribed. You should ensure that they are not using contaminated water – at any cost. You can’t be shy about taking steps to ensure they are isolated from contamination or apathy. The accountability has to be there with your organization. There should be the right discipline, control measures and professionally trained staff to deal with these situations – right from the way they dress, speak and act!

The scale at which you operate is purely limited by the resources and ability to stand up for the true cause. It is important to be honest with yourself rather than building up a reputation for biting off more than you can chew. Any good deed will spread like a wild fire and can grow quickly than the infrastructure can keep up with. So, it is good to slow down, be moderate and remain organic in approach to growth.

Careful growth strategy helps in building a learning culture that is mindful of its actions at every step.