Social Mashup on Beyond Profit: Social Entrepreneur Roundtable

Check out this excellent interview with three of Social Mashup's senior social entrepreneurs. Dipika Prasad led the discussion - she represented Beyond Profit, our media partner, at Mashup.  

Posted by Dipika Prasad on December 6, 2010

Early on in the first day of UnLtd India’s Social Mashup, opening speaker Sachin Malhan of Inclusive Planet set the tone for the day by saying, “Always remember why you do what you do. Keep beauty as the cornerstone of your motivation.” Beyond Profit caught up with three entrepreneurs: Malhan; Solomon Prakash, country director at Ashoka India; and Gijs Spoor, Zameen Organic.

BP: Taking a cue from Sachin’s opening talk in the morning, why do you do what you do?

Solomon: I am at a place and time in the history of India, which has a very unique set of issues and challenges. I want to be part of that history. I don’t live on an island. I open my eyes, I look around and see an issue, and I want to respond. I want to do something beyond complaining. I want to solve the issue, be an actor. That’s where it all begins. All of us have an innate sense of justice. We look at something and say this is not fair. That sense is different from judging right and wrong. I feel unfairness and I want to respond. All of us search for this equilibrium – and we have to do unnatural things to kill it. People want to be relevant—even animals feel that.

BP: Do you identify with this satisfaction of taking action Sachin? Is this what the beauty of social enterprise is for you?

Sachin: I agree with Solomon. Equilibrium is a nice way of describing [it]. One thing I’d like to add is the aspect of creative energy. We have this creative energy within us that identifies a pull towards an issue and makes us say ‘I want to engage with this’. It’s a two way street.  You think here is an opportunity to discover more about this issue. It also depends on who you are and the nature of the situation. I started Inclusive Planet because I am intrigued enough by the potential of people collaborating to solve their problems. My creative energy is engaged. You would have noticed entrepreneurs move from area to area, there is no domain attachment. Like Solomon has tried so many different things

Solomon: Yes, that’s true.

BP: Gjis, you’ve moved from Norway to India to answer your need to do something. What motivates you?

Gijs: My reasons for being in this place are not very rational. I was compelled to act, and I did. In hindsight it’s easy to rationalize everything but back then I didn’t put so much thought into why I was doing this. It was almost like there was no other choice. The move to India was a natural decision. Holland has everything—what’s there to do there?  Like Solomon said, this is such an interesting time and space. I think I would have an identity crisis if I were to stop doing the work I do. When I face obstacles I tell myself it is all part of the game.

BP: Solomon are there times when you feel like you don’t know what to do next?

Solomon: Choices are a challenge I face every day. I always encounter situations where I am faced with obstacles. I think I enjoy these moments. It brings the best out of me. I find it’s a challenge for me to sit quietly.

Sachin: Sometimes you just need to take a break. As an entrepreneur you need to understand your emotions in the context of a combination of circumstances.  Sometimes you feel lost and don’t know why, it does not mean you are actually in a bad place. I find that I am bored in phases; I look at something today and think I am bored. Tomorrow may be a different case. I may be energized then. The mind is very fickle. If I persistently feel like doing something else, then I would go for it. I am not tied down. I am very excited by the possibilities of the world.

Gjis: In my experience, when you’re stuck it helps to talk to experienced people. There is lots of mentoring freely available these days. It’s not just you who will get something out of it, but quite often the other person [mentor] will also get something out of it. You give them the once in a lifetime opportunity to help you.

Solomon: I think not knowing what to do is a good place to be. Boredom is also very useful. Do you ever see buffaloes bored? Only human beings can feel boredom. The buffalo chewing cud is either content or so bored that it does not think there’s anything else to life. But I think going to the depth of boredom is very important. It somehow tells you there is nothing more happening. It’s giving you the sign to change things. Sometimes talking to experienced people can only mislead you. It’s better to talk to people to empty yourself out. Talk to someone who will not judge you; in those conversations you will sometimes find the answers you are looking for. I think you should ask for advice only on mundane things—like legal matters—don’t get creative on that! When you are stuck creatively, and it feels like the whole world is caving in, sometimes it’s best to just take a break like Sachin said.