Sunday, April 21, 2013

Five things I picked up at Sankalp 2013

At the largest ‘unconvention’ for social entrepreneurs in India that wound up last week, this writer was both the insider and outsider. Here are some insights from the experience…

- Malay Desai

 1. An accent

Okay, no. Just kidding. But if the Sankalp Unconvention Summit would’ve continued for longer, I would’ve definitely picked up an Ahmedabad-to-LA-and-back accent. I don’t yet know what to make of the evidently high number of Western and American-Indian entrepreneurs at the event, though I found most of them to be bright speakers, having earnest intentions backed by foreign education and experience.

Notable heads from the dozens were Ajaita Shah of Frontier Markets who promised reliable lighting in rural India, Nathan Sigworth whose ‘Pharmasecure’ provides unique alpha-numeric codes to medicines to verify their authenticity.. and the star of the summit Neil Patel (who turned out to be a relative of Samir Patel, whom I’d written about in Mumbai Mirror in 2009) of Awaaz.De, a venture that won the biggest prize. Mark Kahn, Founder/Partner of Omnivore fund, was my pick of the speakers for his irreverent speech that cracked through jargon like a warm knife through butter.

It was also heartening to hear idea-powered folks from the Nashiks and Guwahatis of India talking confidently in their own ‘accents’ on the big platform. To summarise, that feeling of sharing a ballroom with a hundred-odd ‘Mohan Bhargavs’ of Swades is always cool, innit?

      2.Money has to wear suits, apparently

Given the above nature of the attendees, it shouldn't appear as a surprise that the corridors of The Renaissance Hotel were filled with suits during Sankalp. While I hold no reservations against the sartorial habits of Western gentry, it would have been pleasing to see more kurtas and salwars given that many of the visiting delegates wear those in their day jobs in Tier II and III towns of our hinterland.

On day two, almost to defy the cookie-cutters, I donned my short maroon kurta which I’d like to believe garnered me slightly more attention than my formals on day one. I also found a handful of Indian delegates having done the same, besides Vineet Rai of Avishkaar who comfortably sought limelight in a desi achkan.

Question to mull is – to what extent would you tailor your appearance to conform to the norms of a high-profile event, one where first impressions mean much? My vote is for whatever that lets your confidence fly on that sleeve.

3. Some big ideas

Looking back, at the heart of Sankalp 2013 was quite the Kumbh Mela of ideas, some of which are in shape, many of which need Vitamin M to take off. The truth that nothing in the world is as powerful as an idea was palpable through the summit, with the awards, pitches, workshops and just conversations during lunch.
Minister for Social Welfare, 
Government of Bihar, 
Ms Parveen Amanullah was 
one of the distinguished
 names at Sankalp this year

From the big-bang theories at the G20 Inclusive Summit to the patterns of hope charted out by representatives of Afghanistan and Africa to the social concerns of Bihar Minister Parveen Amanullah, there was much to get the macro-minded listeners going. My picks, however were the simple applications of technologies to better or save the lives of many – Green Power Systems’ ‘Waste-to-Energy’ reactor, IQST’s ambition to provide skill-based training to the youth and the most intriguing – the story of one Popatrao Pawar’s socio-economic experiment in Ahmednagar that changed the face of the town.

If there would be just one reason for me to attend Sankalp forums in the future, it would be listening to the cross-section of these engaging ideas.

4. A few biz cards

With great and simple ideas also come bright, unconventional minds and this congregation was a milieu of them. I must shoot a confession here that if there were a World Cup for networking, I’d be the Indian football team. My distaste for networking in formal environments stems from the belief that one must see a person as a person first, not as a contact. I’d rather prefer to strike conversations at parties and casual gatherings, and that too not in a compulsive way. That said, the slow coffee machine at Sankalp did help many networkers score little heaps of business cards ..and as some fund-seeking delegates told me, this was a huge platform to get the word about your venture to the ears of the right people.
Another thing, the interactions with leaders and followers of the social entrepreneurship sector (not exactly the one in which I work but have a growing interest in) were a mighty exercise in self-reflection, if not anything else. If you, like, I go home and ask yourself how many people in your town/country does your day job directly impact, it would be worthwhile.

5. Promises that are working

picture credit : 
            Finally, taking off from the ‘plenty of ideas’ point, it must be said that I cannot help but draw a parallel with Sankalp of that conference the world has taken   a    liking to in the past five years – TED. Having been a follower of TED’s videos and attended the Mumbai editions of TEDx, I have become partly cynical of many of the terrific ideas discussed there – set-ups that provide clean water from mucky water in minutes, wheel-assisted trolleys for rural women who walk for water.. and so on. While they make you clap heartily after listening to them, I haven’t come across many of them being implemented. Of course, this is true to the premise of the organisation – ‘ideas worth spreading.’

           On the other hand, I’d call Sankalp ‘ideas worth getting inspired from’ as the platform invites pre-filtered talents who’ve already proven their worth in their fields and have begun impacting lives at many levels. That the event holds ‘promise’ for a better India (world, actually) is an understatement. It’s rather an annual audit of the promises.


          [Malay Desai writes on youth trends, humour, sports for various media and runs his social media and content outfit, Punchlines.]

          hiyer's note: This post is by my favorite ex-journalist and friend - Malay Desai. It was his sensitively written article on Child Sexual Abuse in Mumbai Mirror (read the unedited article here) about my life that inspired a national award winning film ( I AM)  take takes a leaf out of my life. If today I am a  household name as a crusader for the cause of Child Sexual Abuse, I should say, it all started with this article by Malay. This is an example of how sensitive journalism can help take humanitarian causes to the next level and make icons out of common people. 

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