For business executives looking to impact social challenges effectively
June 18, 2014
I loved meeting with Anita Ahuja from Conserve India last week. Anita and her husband started their social business in 2006 in Delhi. Their focus was clear: to support the rag picker community out of extreme poverty through sustainable livelihoods while managing waste issues locally.
Anita was in London exhibiting her art work at the Nehru Centre, London and we had a really engaging and enjoyable conversation understanding more about what our businesses do and what impact we hope to have. I was inspired by the speed of impact regular work has for the rag pickers that Conserve India employs in the business: finding waste plastic bags to upcycle them into fashion accessories. Within 6 months the combination of work, a regular income and food is enough for the rag pickers to become good looking! A lovely way to describe the transformation that stability and inclusion in formal societal structures can bring.
And hearing more about the first 2 weeks training she provides to teach them fundamentals for working in a factory really touched me. Focusing on time awareness, social etiquette around sitting on chairs, making tea and using the bathroom, made me appreciate a little bit more about life as a rag picker but as often happens made me raise my eyebrows at myself for my lack of appreciation for what I have and my life to date.
What I thought was really interesting was that Anita was slightly apologetic that her next venture was not specifically targeted at rag pickers but would sit alongside the Conserve India business. Her intention is to create a separate brand that will support many more people living in the slums of Delhi to gain the initial and invaluable training and learning in factory work so that they can make the most of the employment opportunities that the 1700 factories planned for development outside Delhi will bring over the next five years. Whilst Anita may feel great attachment to working with the rag pickers, in reality those that engage with Conserve India and progress through their training and work opportunities, quickly become factory workers and the new business will provide further opportunities and advancement.
Conserve India is an innovative strategic social business managing the daily fine balance between social impact and business and the challenges of working with communities living in extreme poverty. I often hear socially aware business people and change makers talking about business integrating more with society and how important it is. For me, Conserve India is a leading example of integrated and balanced social business from strategically deciding to place their factories in the slum areas, to tackling waste issues in the core of their business as well as focusing on the whole eco-system required to support the rag picker and factory worker communities to become stable and to create generational change. Some of the elements of the eco-system they have created are school places for children, access to healthcare, training for further employment and more. And again for me, these sustainable eco-systems for social change is where we can really look to create changes in the world that many people would like to see happen.
Skills gaps in social businesses
I am delighted that WorldChangers can be one of a number of organisations standing alongside Conserve India as part of their eco-system and can provide resources through our Imprint programme. We are placing an executive from the UK highly experienced in fashion, branding and product development for 4 weeks in their offices in Delhi to work on the product and branding strategy for the new international brand they are creating. There are many skills gaps in social businesses essential for them to grow and expand their impact and it is exciting to take a small but very targeted and hopefully high impact step to close one of these gaps for Conserve. My vision is to increase the flow of resources, ideas and energy across diverse organisations so that WorldChangers contributes to improving the social and environmental challenges the world has today.
Our thinking with Imprint is that it provides an effective and direct way for executives to have impact in society and supports the sustainability of the social initiative while the executive gains valuable social business experience and potentially transformational experiences. For companies it offers an opportunity to increase employee engagement, effectively expand their social impact with targeted and defined resources and express their social values internally and externally.
Social businesses are impacting all areas of society from empowering communities, educating children, supporting and scaling traditional artisans, raising nutrition and health awareness, and offering access to banking services in slum and rural areas of India among many other areas. For executives looking to have effective and long lasting social impact, filling a needed skill gap in one of the many social businesses around the world tackling a huge range of issues, is one powerful and invaluable option.