Aditi Seshadri | September 19, 2014

Villgro’s new research offers rare insight into regional social enterprise ecosystems

Villgro has been working with Okapi to map social enterprise ecosystems in nine cities across India, resulting in a pilot research project titled Regional Social Enterprise Ecosystems in India: Reports on Nine Regions.

Over six months, we researched nine cities in India – Pune, Patna, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Thiruvananthapuram, Lucknow – in parallel with Villgro’s Unconvention|L social enterprise events conducted in these cities, incorporating both conventional research methods such as observation and surveys, and also a focus on understanding local entrepreneurs’ perspective through dialogue and discussion.

The research provides insights into the current state of regional social enterprise ecosystems, but also highlights the gaps, and priorities for filling those gaps, as felt locally.

“It could be a first step towards decentralizing the social enterprise ecosystem in India, and provide the opportunity for collaboration and support that currently exist mainly in the major metros, to social enterprises and start-ups in smaller cities and towns across India,” says Dr Lina Sonne of Okapi and author of the report.

Some of the key findings are:

* While Pune, Lucknow, Bhubaneswar, Jaipur and Thiruvananthapuram are reporting emerging startup scenes, support is largely limited to the metros

* Colleges are incorporating entrepreneurship courses, including social enterprise, and setting up e-cells but there are no national social enterprise networks active at a local level

* Except for Jaipur and Patna, there is limited investment in social enterprise ecosystems and impact investment at a state level

Given that the challenges that regions face are broadly similar, but that local challenges vary, this study points to four strategies for building and enabling ecosystems.

* Complement and build on existing strengths, such as a thriving education hub, or grassroots-originated support organizations

* Fill in gaps, such as setting up incubators or accelerators if other support is available, create better access to early-stage finance, or provide access to good mentoring.

* Translate lessons from one region's experience in building an ecosystem to another, adapting to local conditions.

* Get the ecosystem started through a big integrated push at multiple levels, including financial and non-financial support, awareness raising of entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship activities within the higher education institutions.

“This research is especially relevant in light of the Indian government’s recent slew of measures to promote entrepreneurship in the country, including running district-level incubation and accelerator programmes,” says Michelle Abraham, co-founder of Unconvention, Villgro.

Combined with a focus on developing the eight Low-Income States and a long tradition of rural entrepreneurship, the role of India’s smaller cities and towns as focal points and the need to understand the forces at play there, becomes more significant.

Read the full report here

News of the research report launch was also featured on CNBC Awaaz News @ 9 on September 18, 2014

Also read Looking beyond metros for the next big social enterprise idea