Since opening its economy in the early 1990s, India has shown incredible promise, demonstrating rapid growth and entrepreneurial spirit. But festering social issues still remain for many of its citizens, including poverty and a lack of opportunities and resources. Many NGOs are devoted to improving the lives of many Indians, and India’s government has recently spent more money on social welfare and rural programs in an effort to stimulate more economic growth across this vast country.
But social entrepreneurship is also catching on in India. With the belief that individuals—not just the government or NGOs—can bring new ideas, resources, and energy to solve social and economic challenges, UnLtd India is investing in people who are determined to make a huge difference in their country and communities.
UnLtd India sets itself apart from government and other third-party programs by seeking to engage with social entrepreneurs before any other funding sources or investors can knock on their door. With a unique blend of financial and non-financial support, UnLtd India works with these individuals as their organizations—and themselves—develop and grow.
Modeled after UK-based UnLtd, this organization, co-founded by Richard Alderson and Pooja Warier, offers four services to its clients: seed funding, incubation support, a dynamic co-working space (its Mumbai “Hub”), and an annual conference devoted to those who are starting up new enterprises. As Alderson explained to me in a telephone interview last week, UnLtd India offers “a home for anyone who has a great idea for solving social problems.”
Vijaya Pastala, founder of Under the Mango Tree (UTMT), is one of over 60 social entrepreneurs in which UnLtd India has invested. As Alderson explained, when Pastala first approached UnLtd India, she had a broad concept of providing market linkages to rural producers with agriculture and forest produce. Working with the Mumbai staff, she developed a hybrid model of UTMT that promotes bee keeping as a tool to increase agricultural productivity and provide additional livelihoods to farmers. Today, UTMT has a foundation that trains farmers in bee-keeping, provides them with bee boxes, and a for-profit entity that buys back the honey and sells it as a high end product in urban markets.
A journey with UnLtd India could involve three stages. The first stage provides funding of about US$2000 and 160 hours of mentoring and training. A later stage avails the same entrepreneur US$4500 with an additional 220 hours of support. Should one of UnLtd India’s clients reach the point at which they can expand, a third stage round of up to US$40,000 and even more professional support is possible. Some of the funding is in the form of “soft loans,” generally paid pack over 5 years’ time with 0% interest. While capital is important, Alderson noted that for most of its clients, the support and mentoring is more valuable than the finance.
Most of UnLtd India’s funding has come from institutional forces inside and outside of India, but some of that funding is recycled as many of their clients, like Vijaya Pastala, find success. For UnLtd India’s staff of eight, however, the work is only beginning, with plans to grow the organization to other parts of India from its current base in Mumbai.
Alderson and Warier have also launched Journeys for Change, a program that brings accomplished leaders from private, public and civil society organisations across the world to learn from some of India’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs.