Ullas Marar | October 14, 2014

Unconvention|L Diary: Missed flights and pleasant surprises in Jamshedpur

Life on the Unconvention|L team is a bag of travel, fun, surprises, challenges and finally, elation. The elation comes from being able to do our bit to build a regional social enterprise ecosystem across 15 cities in India (While on that, have you read our regional social enterprise ecosystem research report?) Being able to do this is deeply fulfilling. With a small team and one-and-a-half offices (yes, we are working to make that two) in India, we find ourselves stretched pretty often. If we pull through and put up an event of substance, it is due to the tireless support of our truly phenomenal partners.

Nothing can underline the value of their support as much as the last Unconvention|L at Jamshedpur, two weeks ago. In a departure from norm, we travelled to Jamshedpur with just three Villgro members, myself included. The political unrest in Chennai meant that one of our team members would miss his flight, thus leaving just two of us to manage the event. No pressure.

An arduous nine-hour road trip from Kolkata did little to quell the nervous energy I had in the build-up to the event. I had no idea how it would pan out. Many of our event essentials were back in Chennai. Our logistics go-to person had missed his flight. There was no way we could have stuck to the original agenda with just two people. I was just shy of turning into a nervous wreck. And that’s when, not for the first time, the XLRI team reminded me just how amazing they are. Right from the event props, the displays, sound systems, to the catering, everything was nailed down to perfection by the XLRI E-Cell team.

We had received close to 25 pitch applications, of which seven made the cut to the final round. The jury had Paul Belknap, from Villgro’s Incubation team and Ganesh Subramanian, founder of SkillTrain (a Villgro incubatee that provides mobile-based vocational training for rural youth), along with Professor Prabal Sen from XLRI. It was a diverse mix of ideas covering multiple spaces, from environment and agriculture to healthcare and social investment. The jury looked a happy bunch but also had to deal with the rather welcome problem of selecting two winners.

Each Unconvention|L has what we call inspirational speaker sessions, and the one at Jamshedpur also got off to a flyer. Paul and Ganesh were kept busy by excited students and entrepreneurs, asking for feedback and advice. Neither of them seemed to mind and were only too happy to stay back, providing feedback on new enterprise ideas and answering questions on Villgro’s incubation and fellowship programmes. Personally, the most satisfying part was the number of people who walked up to me asking when UNC|L will be back at XLRI.

So an event that started off with so many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ left us all surprised by how effortless it was. The winners of the pitch competition, Team Hope Herbs (growing medicinal herbs using recycled plastic bottles collected by a team of rag-pickers) and Team Fabionix (building a low-cost complete body check-up kit) had many pictures to pose for. They were rightly thrilled at having won the Rs. 50,000 cash prize. An evening to remember before the real work began for them.

As the evening set in, Paul, Ganesh and I took a much-needed break and walked around the beautiful XLRI campus. The E-Cell team made sure that we had a comfortable stay at the MDP Guest House within the campus. We had pulled it off and I could catch a good night’s sleep.

Of course, without the support from XLRI, none of this would have been possible. From professors cancelling classes to students taking up additional responsibilities over their regular college work, their enthusiasm made light work of any apprehensions I had. A special note of gratitude to Professor Madhukar Shukla, whose passion to spread the socent movement in the region is inspiring.

We know already that we will be back in Jamshedpur soon.

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