India's social entrepreneurs promised "maximum" support from minister

In Sanskrit Sankalp means to pledge and that's exactly what two of India's government ministers did at the 7th Sankalp Global Forum. They pledged to support social entrepreneurs across the country to allieviate poverty and tackle inequality. Ellie Ward reports from Delhi

The Indian government will put its ‘heart and soul’ into supporting social entrepreneurship – the minister for science, technology and earth sciences has pledged. 

Dr Harsh Vardhan spoke at the seventh annual Sankalp Global Forum, which was this year held in Delhi for the first time and brought together over 1,000 social entrepreneurs, impact investors and policy makers.

The minister said: “I have been assured by everyone in my ministry that we are putting our hearts and souls into this movement.

“We want to promote it to the maximum level. If we can’t produce good human beings – you might be a good scientist, a good industrialist, a good investor – but if we are not good human beings, we will not be able to provide the types of solutions we need to provide for the people of this country.”

Vardhan is a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which was elected in May last year. The minister told the Forum: “We have a very visionary Prime Minister in this country who has a vision of creating an inclusive government, who wants to involve everybody in the country and who has become a symbol of the dreams of every Indian.” 

Joining the minister for the 2015 Sankalp Global Forum was US ambassador to India Richard Verma, who said that the way the development challenges are tackled between nations is changing.

“Just as the US-India relationship has evolved, so has the way we address development challenges,” he said. 

“Today our approach is to find partnerships. Partnerships not only between our governments but between governments and innovators – social entrepreneurs and impact investors. And partnerships that focus on solutions in areas like health, energy, food security that can be started locally, then scaled and replicated to create larger impact,” Verma concluded.

Despite declining foreign aid and being classed as a ‘lower middle income country’ by the World Bank, the development challenges in India remain vast.

Almost 270 million people – just over 20% of India’s population – were classified as living in poverty in a 2013 Government of India Planning Commission report, but this been described as a “gross underestimate”, with some questioning the accuracy and credibility of this research. 

The level of poverty is highest among rural communities – particularly in parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal according to the IFAD, which cites “high levels of illiteracy, inadequate healthcare and extremely limited access to social services” as key factors for these levels.

Shiri Nitin Gadkari, minister of road transport and highways, acknowledged: “The area where innovation is needed most desperately is the rural sector, where maximum poverty and inequality is rife. 

“Through social entrepreneurship and social innovation, we can change the socio-economic class formation of these people.”

Co-founder of SELCO – a social enterprise established in 1995 that provides sustainable energy solutions to underserved houses and businesses – Harish Hande said that in order to make these changes, there needs to be a shift in the way they are approached.

“Nine out of ten times we go in with a solution and try to find the problem. We need to readdress this and start with the opposite. The urban poor have very different needs to the rural poor, we need to understand this,” he said. 

Hande also said that there are three different types of poverty – “poor, very poor and abject poverty” – and that each group of people “need different types of product intervention, marketing interventions… every detail needs to be tailored”. 

Offering the practical solutions that seemed to resonate with many of the Forum attendees, Paul Basil, CEO of Villgro, said that “getting early stage capital” and “creating more access to mentors” were both vital in order to empower social entrepreneurs to create social change.

While India’s social, economic and environmental problems are clearly unique in some ways – especially with it having a population of over 1.2 billion people – the challenges and needs of social entrepreneurs there don’t seem so far removed from those in the rest of the world. 


Pioneers Post is pleased to be a media partner at the 2015 Sankalp Global Forum, which was held in Delhi on 9 and 10 of April. The Forum brought together social entrepreneurs, social investors and policymakers from all over the world to tackle the theme of this year's event – Fuelling the Innovation Economy – by debating the roles of government, the private sector and capital. Find out more here.

Header image: Bharatiya Janata Party supporters during 2014 elections