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Pranjal Sharma

Pranjal Sharma has been analysing, commenting and writing on economic and development policy in India for 25 years. He has worked in print, TV and digital media in leadership positions and guided teams to interpret economic change and India’s engagement with the world

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Politics Of Policy | For Passion, Not Profit

Innovation and enterprise in India is being led by the young and the daring. As large organizations struggle to transform, young entrepreneurs will lead the way in being smart and responsible

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The biggest disappointment of 2015 was the revelation about the cheat device that Volkswagen had placed in millions of vehicles to avoid strict emission norms. A mature, respected and responsible company turned out to be yet another shallow organization that couldn’t see beyond its nose.

Most companies in the world still think like Volkswagen. How can we get away by doing the least? How do we bend the law, change the rules and essentially get away with murder. HSBC tried the same in Switzerland when it set up departments to hide details of clients that deposited dubious money in their accounts. HSBC failed and its reputation will take years to revive.

If companies like these spent as much effort and resources to being innovative and responsible, the world would be a better place.

Thankfully, young entrepreneurs today feel a far greater sense of responsibility than their elders. Start-ups across the world and especially in emerging markets like India are more conscious and caring. Perhaps because they are driven more by passion than profit, the young are disruptive and market savvy. For many such start-ups, social entrepreneurship is not a sub-category of enterprise. It is THE only way forward. Entrepreneurship by definition has to be social and responsible.

Take Outline India, a start-up that focuses on impact evaluation of social projects. I have worked with Outline India and its young team and witnessed their commitment to social change. In three years the team has spent many months in rural India to collect first hand data for several global projects.

The tribe of such bright, young and committed entrepreneurs is growing. I found more such examples in my meetings with Ashoka Innovators for the Public, a global organization that nurtures social entrepreneurs. Ashoka’s Youth Venture programme helps young Indians to realise their passion for social entrepreneurship with training and mentoring. The Youth Venture Programme recently selected a cohort of 15 young social innovators and entrepreneurs. Some of those who applied were still in school. Others were in college and a few who had given up their jobs a project they believed in.

Some had projects on reviving village economy; some were keen to offer life skills to the marginalized while others simply wanted the urban India to come closer to its roots. Ashoka is encouraging and nurturing these young entrepreneurs to make a difference.

Industry bodies are making an effort too. Nasscom that represents the information technology sector is also supporting young starts-ups. While not explicitly social, most technology solutions are aimed at reducing the digital divide. Thankfully, the government now has realized the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship among the young. The policy framework will have to change to ensure that being new, young and small is seen positively and not with suspicion by central and state government departments.

The year 2016 could be the year that young entrepreneurs show the way in being smart and responsible.