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Entrepreneurship as a Social Movement: Real Life Success Stories

In January 2018, we launched a long-term initiative to give a concerted push to entrepreneurship, including innovative ones, by sharing our knowledge and experience acquired over 17 years as a social enterprise.

To begin with, we invited eminent thought leaders and industry experts who shared their experiences with our home-grown young, aspiring entrepreneurs. This ‘International Seminar on Entrepreneurship as a Social Movement: Creating Cultural, Social and Economic Value’ was organized on 5 and 6 January in Kolkata, in partnership with the British Council and the Essex Business School, University of Essex, U.K.

The narratives at the conclave veered from personal journeys of Indian entrepreneurs to stories from countries as far as Argentina. The deliberations focused on how skills and innovation, supported by a pragmatic and sensitive socio-economic eco-system, can usher in holistic changes in the development paradigm.At the seminar, we also showcased real life success stories of creative, grassroots entrepreneurs of West Bengal. As they recalled their journeys, the audience was left spellbound and in an introspective mode. Here we share some of the highlights of the success stories we were privy to at the seminar. The stories begin with the one of Bandhan Bank. The founder of the bank, Mr Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, was the Chief Guest on the occasion.

Creating an Eco-system of Sustainability: The Story of Bandhan Bank


Bandhan Bank, an Indian banking and finance service company, was started in 2001 by Chandra Shekhar Ghosh. He is the Founder, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Bandhan, the first micro-finance bank to be set up after Independence.

The vision of the bank is to be a “world class bank for convenient and affordable financial solutions to all, in an inclusive and sustainable manner”. In the process of achieving its vision, one of the major challenges identified by the bank was that “the poor hesitated in lending money to the poorer and poorest sections of people”. To overcome this challenge, the bank targeted the “hardcore poor”. The micro-finance programme of Bandhan has provided loans to more than 75 lakh women and the majority of them belong to rural areas. The bank has a great number of success stories to share and one of these is the story of a woman who was provided a loan of Rs 3,000 about 10 years ago. Her reason for borrowing the loan was to buy sarees to sell them from door to door in villages. Today, the woman has a loan of Rs 73,000 and she owns a shop where not only sarees but other garments also are sold. Moreover, she has five employees working for her. This story underscores the fact that mere subsidies and funding cannot make a person an entrepreneur. It is hard work, passion, motivation and confidence that together make an entrepreneur. Incidentally, Bandhan has supported 60,000 families across India and created an eco-system of sustainability.


Collective Entrepreneurship – An Example from Argentina



Collective Entrepreneurship is a new term that combines business risk and capital investment with the social values of collective action. It is believed that collective entrepreneurship has the ability to transform a city, a company and even arts, by having collective interest through identifying, developing and implementing opportunities. The journey of survival of the IMPA Company in Argentina is a brilliant example of collective entrepreneurship. The company accumulated huge losses because of corruption at the top management level. The employees of the company then came together, bought out the company, and revived it through their collective effort. 


The Story of YLG, where Customer is at the Centre


YLG – You Look Great! That is the name of a salon company co-founded by Rahul Bhalchandra in Bangalore in 2009. At present, it has 57 salons across India.

Customers are at the centre of each salon, and they are the major stakeholders of the company. Customers were consulted before registering the name of the company also and the company’s name was decided by a panel of its customers. The company believes in creating values for stakeholders for sustenance. It aspires to innovate continuously. In its initial years, the company was rated as one of the five hottest start-ups because of its innovation skills. YLG is providing world class services to its customers and bringing the best products and services from across the world to the Indian woman at reasonable prices.


(For details, visit: http://www.ylgindia.com/)


Journey of Harish Hande – A Ramon Magsaysay Award winner


Harish Hande, an IIT-Kharagpur graduate and PhD from University of Massachusetts Lowell, co-founded SELCO INDIA in 1995. 

He believes that there is no term as “social enterprise”. According to him, it is either an “enterprise” or “an anti-social enterprise”. He pursued his PhD in Energy Engineering with a focus was on solar energy. As he wanted to experience the feeling of living in a place without electricity, he returned to India and spent two years in a village that had no electricity. During those two years, he felt that education had become a barrier between him and the villagers because they were unable to connect with him because of his education and felt inferior before him. It was from this realization that he co-founded SELCO INDIA.

The company installs solar panels on terraces of schools in villages and provides a battery to every student. As a result, children attend school regularly because they can charge their batteries there and provide electricity to their homes after sunset. SELCO is now coming up with various strategies to solve the problems of rural India. According to Hande, government schemes are ‘end games’ because the schemes are inter-linked and each scheme stands in isolation. Hande and his company are spreading the message of using decentralization as an approach because they think that every problem is linked with another. By providing solar panels in a village, SELCO is solving the problem of illiteracy because with the children going to schools (even on Sundays), their houses are getting electricity, and the women in their families are able to use the solar-powered sewing machines to make clothes and earn money by selling the garments they produce. Lately, they have started using bank facilities also, like opening savings accounts, borrowing loans, etc.
In 2011, Hande won the Ramon Magsaysay award for his “pragmatic efforts to put solar power technology in the hands of the poor, through his social enterprise SELCO India”. At present, the company has 375 employees in Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. It has altogether 45energy service centers. Till now, the company has sold, serviced and financed over 200,000 solar systems. In 2014, Hande resigned from his company to work towards solving “another problem of rural India” because he believes that the problems are too many and the solutions for each of them has to be unique. And the approach to solve them must include decentralization and innovation.

(For details, visit: http://www.selco-india.com/)


Byloom – Transforming Daily Wage Laborers to Grassroots Entrepreneurs


In 2011, Bappaditya Biswas and Rumi Biswas set up retail venture Byloom with Malavika Banerjee and Jeet Banerjee. Byloom is a space that celebrates India’s handloom and handicraft traditions.

The journey of the venture was challenging for Bappaditya and Rumi because the potential market was untouched and they did not know how to operate the looms. They had to ‘unlearn’ whatever they ‘learned’ from the design schools to establish a relationship with the artisans. The artisans, at first, thought that they would be in the village for only a short period of time and leave soon. Understanding the villagers’ perception, Bappaditya and Rumi started staying at the village and soon built a home for themselves in the village so that they cpuld gain their trust and overcome all suspicions about their commitment to the artisans in the village. After living with them, Bappaditya and Rumi started understanding the village artisans better and, gradually, through consultations and interventions, they innovated and created new designs to sustain their venture.

The underlying principle is not to act superior by telling the artisans what their work is and, instead, give them space to experiment and come up with their own imaginative designs and creations. Through the venture, Bappaditya and Rumi want to send the message that handloom is not merely for the elite and can be used by the middle income groups also. They have partnered with the artisans and, according to them, “each artisan is an entrepreneur” because they innovate and develop designs using their creativity. Moreover, the artisans are now exposed to banks and have started using banking facilities. Byloom is working with 1,200 weavers now. They have broken the stereotype of people buying handloom products “out of sympathy, sheerly considering the art and its value”. Their initiative has converted the artisans from daily wage laborers to grassroots entrepreneurs.

(For details, visit: https://www.byloom.co.in/byloom/)


Grassroots Entrepreneurs of Rural Craft Hubs & Rural Craft and Cultural Hubs


Babu Fakir – The Global Journey of a Baul-Fakiri Singer

He is a musician and singer from the village of Gorbhanga in Nadia district of West Bengal. His village was once known for dacoits but today it has transformed into a village known for its Baul-Fakiri music. Babu Fakir’s daily income was around 100 INR per day a decade ago when he practiced music only for recreation. Today, after banglanatak’s intervention, Babu is a full-time musician and has performed in several national and international platforms, including at prestigious music festivals like Copenhagen Music Festival, Denmark, in 2017. He has been invited to perform at the Urkult Festival in Sweden in 2018. Today, his average income per month is around 25,000 INR. The scenario of his village has changed as well. There are proper and clean sanitation facilities, and the youth are taking keen interest in music.

(Video links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp964er-Mr0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzEGadT-7k0)


Tajkira Begum – Weaving Kantha and a Million Dreams


She is a practitioner of the traditional art form of kantha embroidery. Tajkira is a classic example of a woman entrepreneur who has paved the way to economic and social empowerment for many women of her village Nanoor in Birbhum district. She provides employment to around 300 women in her village. The economic independence of these women has led to reduced domestic violence. Tajkira visited Lithuania and France in 2017 to participate in festivals and residency programs. Her monthly income has almost touched six digits today. It is remarkable to see how Kantha, a traditional skill, has helped the women of Nanoor to evolve and overcome the myriad problems that they faced both outside and within their homes for years.

(Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoNzI_dEhlI)


Swarna Chitrakar – A Scroll Painter and a Homemaker


She is a renowned woman scroll painter or Patua of Naya village in Pingla block of Paschim Medinipr district. Naya was known as a ‘beggars village’ once upon a time when Swarna was one of a few Patuas who practiced the ancient art of scroll painting called Patachitra. It is hard to believe today that Swarna’s income from a single painting was around just 100 INR in the year 2004. Today, she is known around the country and abroad for her art and has visited several countries to showcase her work and participate in workshops. Seeing her success, many Patuas of her village, including women, have returned to their traditional art form. In 2017, Swarna and her team brought to life a Durga Puja pavilion in Kolkata based on the theme of Patachitra.

(Video links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQmipohYPoIhttp://www.thesandb.com/arts/swarna-chitrakar-speaks-on-patachitra.html)


Harendranath Rana – The Dokra Magician


He practices the ancient art of metal casting known as Dokra. A resident of Bikna village in Bankura district, his village was in a pitiable state till 2013 when the Department of MSME&T, Government of West Bengal, decided to develop a Rural Craft Hub in the village as part of a joint initiative with UNESCO, adopting the Art for Life methodology of banglanatak dot com. His leadership played a significant role in the socio-economic transformation of Bikna. Every child in the village now goes to school, there is no sign of poverty, and there are proper, functional and clean toilets in every home. Haren says that the necessity of having proper toilets struck him first during his visit to France in 2015.

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