By Alessio Pieroni Forget your stereotypes about social enterprises. Do you think that social enterprises lack strategy while they focus just on impact? If you ever thought so, you are mistaken. We had a chance to speak with Ulhas Kamat, CEO of I create India, who was previously professionally associated for over twenty years with several Fortune 500 companies – ICI, Unilever, IBM, TATA and Unisys where he held progressive management positions across Asia, Africa and USA. After four decades in the private sector, he decided to transition to the social sector to use his skills, knowledge and experience for the benefit of under served community. Ulhas’ journey in I create started thanks to Harsh and Aruna, as he shares, were Indian emigrants in US. After a trip to India in 2000, Harsha and Aruna founded I create to help solve youth unemployement in India through entrepreneurship training. Joining hands some investors, they started up their first centers in Jaipur, Kolkata and Baroda.
Nine years later, I create was having 4 center in India, and there was the need for a change. In that moment Ulhas received a call from Harsh, “Why don’t you take our social enterprise to the next level?” And Ulhas accepted the offer.
In the last 4 years the I Create experienced a steep growth and that can be contributed to these 5 things which Ulhas shared with us:Don’t reinvent the wheel, Indianize it – Often social enterprises spend a lot of time in creating their product or their own development program, but they never focus on benchmarking what other organisations, working in the same field are doing. I create did this. Since its inception, instead of creating a program to develop entrepreneurship, they partnered with NFTE (Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship), a NGO based in US that helps disadvantage youth. But they didn’t just copy it, they Indianized it. “We adapted based on the local conditions, the local beliefs and the local areas of interest,” says Ulhas.
Be professional some social businesses get lost and become more and more like NGOs rather than businesses. But sometimes they forget that a social enterprise is an enterprise after all that needs to have a social impact. So it needs to be run as an enterprise. “Run anything you do professionally. You set your goals, you set your own targets and have a concrete action plan to achieve these goals.” 3. Customer vs Consumer Ulhas is a master in turning companies from loss to profit since he did it for 40 years. And he got one amazing insight that he is using with I create – keeping in mind the difference between consumer and customer. “Most of the no profit organisation don’t have a customer focus because they forget who their customer is. In our case we have identified the customer and the consumer. Youth that are attending our courses are the consumer and majority of them cannot pay for the service that we provide, while customers can. Our customers are foundations, partners, organisations. We have to understand their different needs and provide services accordingly.”
Quality first – No one wants to have a bad service and Ulhas knows it. Despite the fact that I create is a fast growing company, he would never compromise on quality. “We want more and more branches to come up in different parts of the country. We don’t want a centralised location, but a decentralised one. It is more cost effective. We don’t want to play the numbers game. We cannot compromise quality for numbers, because our entire success depends both on our methodology and our centers.”
Do what you love. Love what you do. Behind all the business strategies, there is always something stronger backing it up. And this is why you do what you do. So aspiring social entrepreneurs, take pen and paper and listen this great advice from Ulhas. “Do what you love and love what you do. A lot of time people want to start a social enterprise just because there is a problem. But if you don’t like that problem, don’t start it! You must identify what is your passion: if teaching is your passion, start something connected with education, don’t start something connected with health or other issues.” All this steered Ulhas in his extraordinary career and in his adventure with I create. It is worth a thought for sure for all social entrepreneurs.