More social ventures emerging in tier 2 and 3 cities: Aparajita Agarwal, Director, Sankalp Forum

Started in 2009, Sankalp Forum is Asia’s largest social enterprise forum which supports the growth of social enterprises and catalyses impact investments in the sector. It engages a community of over 10,000 stakeholders, including entrepreneurs and investors through year round activities such as regional summits, mentoring programs, capacity-building workshops and access to knowledge and information.

To support social enterprises for-profit the platform convinces investors across different continents about lucrative opportunities in the social sector.

Aparajita Agarwal, Director, Sankalp Forum
Aparajita Agarwal, Director, Sankalp Forum

YourStory spoke to Aparajita Agarwal, chief evangelist, Sankalp Forum Initiative, about the evolution of social enterprise sector and initiatives taken by Sankalp Forum.

YS: How do you see the evolution of social startups over the past five years? Don’t you think social entrepreneurship is less appealing when compared to other sectors?

AA: The level of entrepreneurship has been growing exponentially in India across all sectors – e-commerce, social, technology, big data among several others. We have seen increasing number of social enterprises (small and medium scale) coming out of smaller (tier 2 and 3) cities.

We don’t see social sectors as a less appealing choice. Sankalp Forum conducts seminars and workshops at the regional level and we have sensed more people from grassroots level ready to start ventures in social sector for-profit.

YS: Which verticals in the social sector are hot at the moment?

AA: Healthcare and agriculture are certainly witnessing a lot of traction. We see significant amount of innovation in healthcare and sanitation. Distribution and delivery have improved as home grown startups are producing technology driven tools that can be used even by less savvy folks.

On the agriculture front, we see startups solving big problems like storage with the help of automated softwares. So far, even big corporates have failed to solve storage facility for perishable products. However, small entrepreneurs are experimenting and evolving relevant solutions to such problems.

YS: Sankalp primarily connects social entrepreneurs to investors. Can you give some senses about the type of investors Sankalp Forum has on its board?

AA: A major chunk of investors at our platform are from the mainstream (commercial) segment followed by grant investors who have portfolio approach unlike traditional loan funding. At the same time we see a spate in family foundations and philanthropist’s appetite in social enterprises.

YS: The government recently announced two percent of overall revenue mandatory towards corporate social responsibility (CSR). How will this foster social entrepreneurship?

AA: There is still some ambiguity about how CSR money allocated by corporates would be used. Nevertheless, the two percent mandatory CSR opens up a huge window of opportunities for social entrepreneurs. Corporates should allocate some part of CSR in startups developing technology and tools for making systems efficient in rural areas.

YS: What are some of the major challenges faced by social enterprises at grass-roots level?

AA: Like other sectors, social startups face a challenge to capital access. Besides this, lack of mentors in this sector results in a high mortality rate for startups. Through Sankalp Forum we extend mentorship on how to set-up, grow and scale social enterprises.

Crunch of skilled work-force also becomes a challenge for the sector. Social startups don’t pay at par with startups in other sectors and on top of it most of them operate from tier two and three cities where talented people avoid settling down.

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