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Dr Praful Naik’s Journey From Corporate To Social

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Naik talks about his shift to social entrepreneurship, differences between social and for-profit founders and more

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While innovations normally have a transformative impact on the echo system they touch, it is heartening to see how innovations can also enable the transformation of an individual.
 
Dr Praful Naik is a creative scientist par excellence, involved in innovations ranging from his core background expertise in Pharmaceutical Engineering being a product of IIT BHU to churning out innovations in business creation and hardcore revolutionary products in the areas of speciality materials for pharma packaging including path-breaking Securitization technologies and finally plunging into innovative building and sanitation technologies.
 
 Taking a deeper peep into the patents granted and applied for by Praful who has now over 40 granted patents and about 200 patent applications worldwide, was marvelled at the diversity of innovations he has been involved as an individual, compelling me to look at an interesting theory of Transformative Innovation impacting an individual.
 
 While entering this uncharted water, he was already thinking and working on a novel aspect for the bottom of the pyramid and rural communities and coined it as SMARTGRAM for which he received a trademark. SMARTGRAM got selected as the term for the launch of Smart Village initiative by Shri Pranab Mukherjee during his Presidency.  Under this SMARTGRAM initiative of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the project of Gramalaya was awarded to his entity by NBCC (India) Limited under its CSR initiative.  He was also simultaneously thinking and working on the drinking water challenges especially in areas which were completely dependent on groundwater but not scientifically fit for drinking. He devised the SASDWVS (SMARTGRAM Automated safe Drinking Water Vending system) which focused on de-linking access to safe drinking water from the electrical supply as well as a comprehensive management and ownership mechanism for sustainable, long term productive use of the system. His model was tried out as a concept in one village which was successful, leading to the approval of financial support by Tata Trusts for establishing 12 systems in selected villages under the SMARTGRAM initiative which have been successfully commissioned.
 
Today Praful looks unbelievably comfortable living in a village in Haryana to complete a school project undertaken by him and also working with Pranab Mukherjee Foundation in propelling its vision of building a novel echo system comprising new breed of rural Entrepreneurs for enabling robust inclusive development and sustainability in villages thereby accomplishing a full circle of transformation.

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Naik talks about his shift to social entrepreneurship, differences between social and for-profit founders and more

What made you shift for social entrepreneurship?
Let me clarify. Prashak Techno Enterprises, the entity I founded in 2014, is not purely social entrepreneurship.  It is a private entity and I term it as “social for-profit” venture, where the “social” part comprises the implementation of some socially useful and valuable interventions particularly for the bottom of the pyramid and rural regions and “for-profit” comprises marginal outcome for venture sustainability and continuation of its initiative. “Innovation” has been the unifying element in my diverse role in the for-profit corporate world as well as now in the social for-profit initiative.  After obtaining my bachelors, masters and doctorate from IT-BHU (now IIT BHU), I was fortunate to start my career in a pharma company which gave me the opportunity to understand and learn the value of 2 traits “documentation and innovation”.  Almost instant retrieval of several decades-old obsolete processes led me to create a new product which made these 2 traits deeply embedded into my professional way of life. 

These 2 traits not only enabled me to gain over a decade of rich and diverse experience and expertise in pharma sector band but also to transit with ease into a completely different sector – Packaging systems and speciality materials.   This is where and when I was able to really unleash my innovation fire, resulting in not only path-breaking innovations like nonClonableID (nCiD) technology which was launched by Respected Dr APJ Abdul Kalam but also pathbreaking business innovation of ushering the pharma clinical manufacturing in India as a business by establishing the first one of its kind facility in Pune and subsequently transforming it into a successful multi-national business. Contributing as an inventor resulted in not only multi-fold increase in the intellectual property of the company but also mine as an individual, comprising a major portion of the 40 odd granted patents and over 200 patent application globally where I am one of the inventors.  Focus on the proliferation of nCiD into Asian region led to deliberations with the reputed Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) based at Thailand, in 2012 which subsequently led to my involvement in the creation of the Habitech-NivaraTantra building and Sanitation technology solutions being research and developed at AIT.  The solutions were social, oriented towards creating value for communities at the bottom of the pyramid. While creating and innovating is addictive and gratifying, putting it to effective use is an entirely different ball game and a lot more challenging. New innovations are always looked at sceptically and I was quite apprehensive when asked to proliferate Habitech-NivaraTantra, more so as I was not from the civil background. The encouragement and guidance I got from my esteemed intellectual Guru’s – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr. R Chidambaram (Former Principal Scientific Adviser to Govt. of India), Dr. R A Mashelkar as well as from my spiritual Mentor Shri Shashi Dubey gave me the confidence of taking the Habitech-NivaraTantra innovation to actuality through Prashak.  

Was fortunate to have the technology adopted by the Rashtrapati Bhawan which through CPWD conferred the first commercial order of constructing the Technology Innovations Demonstration Building – Ashiana Annexe at the President’s Estate Dehradun.  Both foundation stone laying and inauguration was done by the Honorable President of India. Conceptualized another innovative concept – SMARTGRAM which was found worthy by the Rashtrapati Bhawan, which launched it as SMARTGRAM initiative wherein the Honorable President of India adopted 100 villages in Gurugram and Nuh districts of Haryana to enable the transformation of these villages to President’s envisioned SMARTGRAM 4H model – Humane, Hi-tech Harmony and Happiness.   NBCC India Limited and ONGC Limited came forward to support the construction of a novel GRAMALAYA in one of the villages and a SMARTGRAM higher secondary school in another using the novel Habitech-NivaraTantra Technology solutions. 

Not all such innovations/ideas get as fortunate and think that there is a greater need to support such innovations/passions/ideas in the social domain in a more structured and formal way.

Are there fundamental differences between social and for-profit founders?
There are a few distinct differences between the capitalistic bent of for-profit founders and innovators or highly motivated people plunging into Social entrepreneurship. The former group of people are extremely innovative and are able to transform an innovation/idea to a business initiative for a region or globally with its net worth enhanced in gigantic proportions. It is focused on the transformative amplification of Capital value. The social founders, on the other hand, are very passionate about an idea/innovation they believe has the potential to touch large masses of lesser fortunate people.   In social founders, you have people who propel their ideas through establishing not-for-profit organizations and we also see an increasing number of yet another group of people which works on implementing their idea/innovation through their own means. Of late several people including youngsters are daring to push themselves in the social sector for enabling their innovation/idea to touch many lives towards a better living.   These people invariably struggle for infusion of capital and mostly end up using their own. Here the passion is social upliftment and not capitalistic.  Those for-profit founders who make it big, tend to plough back some portion of their riches into society through philanthropic initiatives.  However, there is a distinct difference in the manner of involvement wherein the social entrepreneurs live the life with the society they support through their initiatives in comparison to only the capital inflow of the for-profit founders which although is of great significance may not always yield the desired outcomes.  

An innovative model could be routing a part of funding by for-profit founders in initiatives of social entrepreneurs who have breakthrough ideas and having a sustainable model of “social for-profit” initiatives where the majority of profits are distributed in some way to the targeted large mass of society. 

Why do many prominent business people move into social entrepreneurship?
We see increasing instances of prominent business people moving into whole time social initiatives, where they bring in and invest a significant portion of their created wealth for diverse social causes. While it is a crucial trendsetter, instigating other equals to join the bandwagon, these instances are yet not statistically significant to the amassed wealth at the top of the pyramid and several of these may well be driven by an urge to be socially respected and recognised in comparison to the focus on actual outcomes. We, therefore, may visibly see many social initiatives targeting neighbouring peri-urban/rural areas for want of ease, convenience, compulsion and lesser / negligible initiatives in remote/difficult rural localities in much more need of social interventions. 

What is the difference between people who go to work for a social versus not-for-profit startup?
Those who work for a social cause as an individual, invariably do it on a voluntary basis i.e. are not paid for their work or involvement. People who work for not-for-profit startup’s / Non-Governmental organizations are paid salaries for their work. There is an increasing class of voluntary contribution of time by individuals working for-profit organizations, where the organizations allow participation of their employees for a few days from the work to engage in social activities. For-profit organizations also contribute socially in a defined manner by making teams from their employees who work voluntarily for social cause and objectives of the organization.  

In the for-profit world, you keep score with sales revenue—how do you keep score in the not-for-profit world?
It is a very difficult task to keep a score in not-for-profit organizations as these organizations are supported by donations from Corporates / Government agencies to accomplish specific tasks defined by the donor agency. The score is always based on successful completion of the task provided by the donor agency.  Activities in not-for-profit are driven in a similar manner as it would happen in for-profit organizations with the only difference being there is no generation of revenue or profit for the work done by a not-for-profit entity and payments are done by the donor entity usually on the successful accomplishments of defined and mutually agreed on milestones. The work environment is usually harsher and difficult for not-for-profit organizations as invariably the beneficiary is a socially underprivileged community which view initiatives in quite a different manner.  

How can social entrepreneurs attract talent when there aren’t high salaries and options?
Social entrepreneurs are normally driven by their own passion and lead their initiatives single-handedly. It is not the case when an HNI enters into the social arena with deep pockets enabling him or his entity to get the best of the talent. The social startup’s struggle for financial support unless they have a path-breaking idea or innovation which can facilitate acceptance by Corporates / Government agencies for providing financial support with ease. That is why I opine that the social startups should go the Social for-profit route where the marginal profits enable them to keep afloat with sustainable continuance. Innovations with the potential of significant positive impact for the less privileged is the key for a successful social entrepreneur which can bring in the required financial support for execution and effective proliferation. 

How government can help our society to encourage more social entrepreneurship?
There are significant initiatives from our Government to enable the creation of an effective echo system for channelizing social initiatives. The law of providing 2% of the profits by Corporates / PSU’s towards CSR has enabled a significant amount of visible value creation for the underprivileged communities.  While several Corporates have their own foundation through which they implement CSR initiatives, a large number of Corporates / PSU’s rely on executing and implementing CSR initiatives using Non-Governmental / Not-for-profit organizations. This enables sustained continuance of work by social organizations. Of late the Corporates / PSU’s are also extending their CSR funding to social startup’s having pathbreaking innovations/ideas with the ability to bring in remarkable changes in the economically challenged / rural regions. A possible novel approach could be adopted by the Government in licensing some of the innovative solutions developed by startup’s with a focus on social transformation and then deploy them through various government agencies/corporates under various beneficiary schemes to enable such innovations to reach the targeted underprivileged communities and in turn, facilitate the Make in India initiative with sustainable continuance of the startup echo system.


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