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CEO Blog 8: If collaboration is the way of Social Entrepreneurs, then, where does that leave competition?

2 August 2017

Can we collaborate in the spirit of serving others? In the spirit of empowerment with no expectation of anything in return? In the spirit of creating processes of change which go beyond ‘self’ interests?

I came across this quote by Swami Vivekananda which invokes the passion to serve others. He says, “Ask nothing; want nothing in return. Give what you have to give; it will come back to you – but do not think of that now, it will come back multiplied a thousand fold – but the attention must not be on that. Yet have the power to; so give willingly. If you wish to help a man, never think what that man’s attitude should be towards you.”

Collaboration in no way undermines the importance of ‘individual action’. Self help and the need for action is part of the act of collaboration. But the spirit in which collaboration could achieve results (the intent of joining forces and working together) is what Swami Vivekananda’s quote reflects and where this post takes inspiration from.

For me, this quote is potent with multiple important messages which helps me understand the myriad of possibilities that can exist in the spirit of collaboration. One key feature of C K Prahalad’s concept – ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ is his suggestion about how the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid lies in the power to collaborate and create solutions for this un/under-served market. When we aspire to rethink business models to capture new markets especially for social entrepreneurs who serve the poor, collaboration comes in as a powerful tool.

I am more focused around the intent of collaboration, and no other dimension.

Recently we concluded our knowledge forum on technology (T4D – Technology For Development) and I realised that throughout my conversations with technocrats and social entrepreneurs, what emerged was the need to collaborate. The technocrats were talking about the spread of networks, the importance of access to information, while the social thinkers brought ‘putting people at the center of all development’ as a solution to democratic processes of current development. Both sides submitted that there was an urgent need around working together, starting with a human centered approach rather than a systems (infrastructure) approach.

As a country we boast of new economic growth, yet remain incapacitated to address significant challenges – inequality, violence and justice being the most important. The challenges social entrepreneurs face require ‘ACTION’ – action by one and all in their respective situations, cultures and geographies. By engaging in collective action which involves participation and engagement from relevant stakeholders across the board, it can lead to a positive collective impact in the places we live.

“Competition makes us faster, collaboration makes us better”

– Anonymous

I want to draw your attention to two of our fellows from the previous cohort – Archana Relan and Raisa Dawood. While one helps small and marginal farmers to produce and market millets, the other works with children fighting malnutrition and providing quality education. Both realized that they can mutually benefit from one another and decided to collaborate in the work they do, via their enterprises. They both solve starkly different challenges – where the solution one found for tribal farmers to increase their income by growing & selling millets, solved the nutrition needs of children in low income households. And, they decided to collaborate. Thus, Raisa set up a home scale processing unit where she trained rural women to manufacture food products by adding value to millets Archana supplies like idli batter, energy bars etc.

“If you’re working for yourself, compete. If you’re working for the cause, collaborate.”

-Archana Relan

In June 2017, we organised a workshop on ‘Design Thinking’ for our fellows and Prof. C D Mitra, Visiting Professor from IIM Calcutta, shared several examples to explain the concepts of design thinking. One of the examples he shared and which I vividly remember was of the brand, Gillette – on how it is constantly competing with itself. By using market cannibalization and in this case, even self-cannibalization techniques, it got its loyal customer base to move from its very own razor models. In short, Gillette ensured that customers continue to buy its products by eating away the share of its existing offerings thereby replacing it with newer and better products.

This form of ‘competition’ with the self is unique and most rewarding. You win customers and you win people. To me competition is only with the self, it is never with the other.

(School for Social Entrepreneurs India recently launched its crowd-funding campaign and to me it is one more way of collaboration. Crowdfunding is an opportunity to reach out to your stakeholders, friends & family who are effectively the most supportive social network who believe in your cause. And, crowdfunding is not easy; it is a lot of hard work. It is about garnering support for your idea, and the idea will meet its fate depending people support or not. It is much more than just the money.)

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