CEO Blog 1: A life-changing ‘encounter’

20 Jul 2016

Shalabh runs the School for Social Entrepreneurs IndiaI would begin with a quote of Michael Young, founder of SSE and he said, ‘Everybody has the capacity to be remarkable’. And my faith in this statement becomes stronger whenever I interact with a group of people discussing ideas. I have often wondered what the buzz around ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ is today and it makes me question myself ‘would social entrepreneurship be different from the very purpose of our life on planet?’

But for every purpose to be realized, we need an instrument and hence, to solve social problems, we need social enterprises as an instrument. But which out of the two hold precedence – Social Entrepreneur or the Social Enterprise? I would like to share a recent experience with you.

I am sure many of you would have heard of Anshu Gupta – Popularly known as the ‘Clothing Man’. Starting as a freelance journalist, Anshu left a corporate career in 1998 and founded GOONJ with a mission to make clothing a matter of concern and to bring it among the list of subjects for the development sector.  Anshu’s work with GOONJ goes to a core challenge of our times; the growing gap between the urban prosperity & rural poverty. But what is important to understand is – what made him do this:

Last month, I met him with 17 aspiring social entrepreneurs I work with, and Anshu shared a story with us that sent shivers through us.

The idea of ‘Work for Cloth’ came from a visit to Khooni Darwaza in Delhi once with a so-called ‘body collector’, a person named Habib who collects dead bodies of homeless or unidentified persons.

One December night, Anshu accompanied him to collect an unidentified body at Khooni Darwaza. Wearing nothing but a thin cotton shirt, the man would have clearly died of cold…

On his return, Anshu interacted with Habib’s daughter who told him “When I feel cold during the night, I hug the dead body and sleep. It does not trouble me, it doesn’t turn around”. Her words made Anshu think that how fortunate he is that he never had to meet clothing as a challenge in winters.

The fact is, clothing is a basic need for everyone and many people like Habib’s daughter face a daily struggle for clothes to wear. During winters, the condition worsens.

And this led him to set up Goonj.

And this is what I call an ENCOUNTER – that deeply affects you, passionately engages you to drive ‘the change’.

At the School for Social Entrepreneurs India, one of the key things that we look for our potential fellowship participants is for this ENCOUNTER. Where did they experience it? And how did it help them shape their idea of the social enterprise?

Social entrepreneurs effectively use their encounter to challenge themselves and the society & market forces equally by providing a solution that is a game changer.