Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Social Entrepreneurship

I originally wrote this article for ManagmentNext.com. Since its not available online tho, I am reposting it here.

Thru a combination of hard work, good fortune and a curious predisposition towards a very low cost standard of living I have been blessed with a significant amount of freedom relatively early in my life.

Extreme freedom is more complex than most people realize and begs the question. “What do I really want”. After traveling and some soul searching I came to the high level conclusion, that I’d like a happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyle, and would like to use my skills, time, energy and money to make happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyles more readily available.

Looking inward at the gifts I carry, perhaps the most important is an almost religious personal identification with the internet. I believe education, security thru government recourse, money and meaningful membership in the international community are widely available via the internet to those with the access and understanding of how to engage it properly.

My particular mission is to make that statement more real and less rhetorical.

When I dream about a realistic perfect future it looks like some combination of the Solitude farm at Auroville, the dreams of Paolo Soleri and his experiments at Arcosanti, the Silicon Valley and Dharavi.

Put another way, I would like to see us move :

  • away from large scale commercial agriculture towards more local consumption of organically grown food.
  • away from the mega-cities towards a much larger number of smaller, higher density urban centers
  • away from a ‘teacher as information repository’ model of education with memorization as the primary metric of student understanding towards a model where information is freely available on the internet, teachers are guides and coaches, and success is measured by a portfolio of meaningful projects.
  • Towards an internet representative of the global population with thoughtful online public discourse between all the worlds peoples.

I’ll quickly describe the work of a number of projects & organizations I have been involved with with these goals in mind:

AirJaldi.org – Empowering Communities Through Wireless Networks

Based in Himachal Pradesh, Air Jaldi develops, deploys and demonstrates technology based on affordable equipment and open-source software tools suitable to the needs and conditions of rural areas. They have deployed a large mesh network connecting over 80 villages, and have set up a network academy for training people in the art of low cost wireless networking.

The Digital Study Hall (DSH)

DSH seeks to improve education for the poor children in India. They digitally record live classes by the best grassroots teachers and distribute them on DVDs to rural and slum schools. Education experts and teachers use the system to explore pedagogical approaches involving local teachers actively "mediating" the video lessons.


Curriki is an online environment created to support the development and free distribution of world-class educational materials to anyone who needs them. The name is a play on the combination of 'curriculum' and 'wiki' which is the technology they're using to make education universally accessible.


VideoVolunteer’s vision is to create a global social media network of by and for marginalized and poor communities around the world. They work with local NGOs to donate filmmaking equipment and train local teams in video production about issues of local interest. These videos are then shown via projector to the local communities and are followed up by a discussion about the issues raised and in many cases a call to action.


This is a technology startup incubation program I am running in conjunction with CIIE at IIM Ahmedabad. While we hope to earn money by taking a small equity stake in the companies we work with, we have a higher objective of stimulating the local (Indian) economy by establishing profitable high-tech businesses.

I heartily advocate this strategy of taking the time to come up with a clear picture of what to do and why, and then engaging with people doing interesting projects in these areas while looking for where to devote one’s full energies. Understanding and aligning with deeply personal goals has helped keep me focused and energized in my work, and exploring these different organizations has introduced to me to a wide range of great people, new environments, and ideas.

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