“We will either find a way or make one,” proclaims a quote splashed proudly on the wall of the conference room I’m sitting in Alibaug, Maharashtra. Having spent the past two days interacting with 41 social entrepreneurs from the for-profit and non-profit sectors in India, I find this quote to be an excellent description of the energy in the room. I can hardly believe I’m here.
Time has flown since I landed in Mumbai three weeks ago. I’ve been apartment hunting, applying to graduate schools, and spending far more time than I care to commuting in local trains.
But most importantly, and most excitingly, I’ve started my new full-time job as a Social Impact Fellow at Dasra (www.dasra.org), India’s leading strategic philanthropy organization. It is through Dasra that I’ve been able to attend – and indeed, help organize- this workshop. The Dasra Social Impact (DSI) Program helps some of India’s most outstanding leaders in the social sector sustainably scale their organizations, which in turn dramatically increases their impact on the most marginalized communities in the country. The DSI team, of which I am now a part, organizes three workshops over a six-month period for this group. I started working at Dasra just weeks before the first workshop, and now that I am here in Alibaug I see why this program is so unique and so helpful.
As some of my new colleagues have told me, training organizations to maximize social impact is just as important as generating funding/investment, but is far less acknowledged than the latter. Dasra aims to help social enterprises achieve their missions more effectively through programs like DSI. DSI both connects entrepreneurs with one another to encourage mutually beneficial learning, and provides learning modules and one-on-one trainings.
Is there any better way to learn about the social enterprise field than to spend time with some of India’s most promising entrepreneurs? I’m surprised by the camaraderie at this workshop and by the collective social consciousness among the participants. During sessions, they acknowledge the importance of “competitive advantage,” but during tea breaks they grapple with common issues and offer each other insight and advice based on their own experiences.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to hear the names of other Clinton Fellows’ NGOs come up at Dasra team meetings. Some of these organizations have participated in previous DSI programs and others collaborate on different Dasra projects. It is clear that there is a great deal of synergy among Indian NGOs and that they all seem to share the same vision of making India healthy and happy. I feel lucky to be a part of this exciting mix and to benefit from as well as to contribute to this field. In all honesty, I am a bit disappointed that a full month of my ten-month fellowship has flown away. There is so much to learn and such little time.