I used to be a typical urban corporate goer, I now am a development entrepreneur. I was once a job seeker, I am now a job creator.
After having worked in the corporate world with some of the best corporations, in 2017, I had this itch that there’s more to life than what I was doing. I quit my job and along with my wife and 10 year old son, we moved to the mountains, Nilgiris. The idea was to live an off-the-grid life.
We lived in the interiors of The Nilgiris for 2 years. We grew our own food.
We harvested electricity from solar, harvested water from the mountain stream and lived among elephants, bears, bison, leopards, etc. It was during this time that we also grew close to the indigenous communities living around us. They were primarily Kurumbas and Irulas who are native to these mountains alongside Todas and Kotas.
While we and the communities were living under similar circumstances we could see that we were experiencing life differently. We were happy while they weren’t as much. We considered this life a boon while they saw it as a struggle. The only difference in circumstances was a stable livelihood. This was the first time I came face to face with the gross inequalities that exist in our country. The inequality of economic beings. We of course knew poverty exists while we were living in the cities but it wasn’t up close and personal.
As per the latest report by Oxfam, between 2012 and 2021,
- 40% of the wealth created in India has gone to just 1% of the population
- a mere 3% of the wealth has gone to the bottom 50%
- 5% of Indians own more than 60% of the country’s wealth
- while the bottom 50% of the population possess only 3% of the wealth.
India has the world’s highest number of poor at 228.9 million. On the other hand, the total number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166 billionaires in 2022. Someone at Oxfam also has done some interesting math. It would take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment company earns in a year.
70% of India’s population is in the rural areas as per the GOI economic survey 22-23 based on 2021 data. This is despite the constant out-migration from rural to urban areas for lack of livelihood.Now the government is doing its part to address this inequality at scale for example, the Public Distribution System which ensures the poor have access to free or subsidised provisions.
There are crores of rupees allocated every year to schemes that provide support for upliftment. According to the budget document available on the MoRD website for FY 23-24, INR 1,57,545 crore has been allocated for rural development.. It’s common knowledge how efficiently that money is actually being used. But, most of it is truly available for implementation but, there is a serious gap in terms of professionals with the required skills to facilitate this.
I now introduce you to the idea of development entrepreneurship. A development entrepreneur is a person who pursues an innovative idea to solve a community problem. There usually is an enterprise to act as a medium and this enterprise usually has commerce in the business model to ensure the solution is self sustainable. They also usually believe that this path is a way to connect them with their life's purpose and make a difference in the world all while eking out a living. So it’s not altruism. It isn’t charity. This is a career path with returns. Of course they won't be able to buy a BMW while on this path. The focus here is on inclusive growth. So you can call it an alternate career path because of how today’s mainstream is defined. But, this needs to become mainstream eventually.
This 228.9 million don’t actually need charity, they need dignified livelihood that will give them a shot at flourishing in this lifetime so their next generation rises further above. I’d like to now refer to a very popular adage.
For this, we need the young in this country to switch their mindset from being a job seeker to being a job creator. According to a recent publication by Hans India, every year there are around 6.5 million graduating in this country. 1.5 million are engineers. 300,000 are post graduates in business management.
All we need is 228,900 from this talent pool which translates to just 3.5%. If each of them can impact only 1000 lives in their lifetime then the 228.9 million poor in this country will no longer be poor. I know it’s easier said than done but it’s certainly possible. While the government continues to provide for the scale of impact, it’s this band of professionals that need to facilitate depth of impact. This band can work with communities and inspire solutions. Solutions that come from the communities hence, owned by the communities. Facilitate collectives to ensure the solution stays owned by the community and to leverage economies of scale. Links these collectives to the various schemes designed by the government.
Most of the skills needed to be successful in this path aren't taught in school or college. While the academics provide for a foundation, these individuals need to further upskill themselves depending on the need or sector. The internet has proven to be a great equaliser with all the upskilling tools being available for anyone to learn and in most cases at no cost.
When I started on this path of development entrepreneurship, I didn’t have a background in either the social sector or entrepreneurship. We corporate folks are largely useless outside of our jobs. Between me quitting my job and starting on this journey, I picked up 14 different skills. All from the internet and all at no cost. It’s these 14 skills coupled with skills of my partner that helped us build an enterprise ecosystem that uses craft and commerce as means to enable women from rural & indigenous communities into the economic mainstream.