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Vinay Nair knew where he wanted to be but didn't exactly know how to get there. He had spent his 20s climbing the corporate ladder successfully, but a nagging dissatisfaction had started bothering him. Nair tried volunteering and also started on organising a sabbatical from work but nothing really clicked with his objective of working in microfinance or working for the less privileged.
A 12-day journey through Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai and exposure to inspiring stories of others who had made the transition from corporate jobs to social entrepreneurship was the catalyst he needed. The journey also introduced him, serendipitously enough, to the Acumen Fund, a firm that invests in social enterprises. He would eventually end up working here.
This and several other inspirational journeys have been made possible by Journeys for Change (JFC), a travel outfit that offers experiential leadership development programmes for those who want a window in to the world of social entrepreneurship in India. JFC works as a catalyst for people who want a sharper focus into the field of social projects or ones who mean to eventually shift to the field and want to know how to get started. It was started by Pooja Warier, 32, and Richard Alderson, 38 - both of whom had a life-changing experience of their own in 2005 on a trip to India with a group of social leaders in the UK.
"That experience of spending time with the group of leaders changed our lives. It helped us see a greater potential in ourselves, to make change in the world and bring together diverse people, meeting and sharing with these people, " says Alderson.
On these trips, JFC takes along a motley group of people - corporates, policy makers, academics, leaders in civil society organisations and even high net worth individuals. The group is introduced to various social sector enterprises and leaders across India. Alderson says, "We like a mix of people from different countries, sexes and ages. But all of them want to make a positive impact on the world and are open to challenging experiences. "
Next month's trip features a young social entrepreneur from Russia, another from Pakistan, a mid-level manager for Accenture in France, and a senior social enterprise CEO from the UK. JFC prefers to accept applications from those who are in a position to affect change. Participants are charged different rates for the programme depending on their backgrounds. A social sector activist may have to cough up only Rs 1. 4 lakh compared to say the Rs 3 lakh a corporate participant has to pay. For those from other countries, the starting rate is Rs 2.3 lakh.
The decision to use India as the showcase for entrepreneurs wasn't difficult. For Warier it was familiar land already and Alderson had seen firsthand the difference social entrepreneurs have made in India.
"We have also realised said entrepreneurs make a greater impact with fewer resources. People who have been on our journeys remark that it has opened their eyes to the advantages of not wait for funding forever. Social entrepreneurship is a new term but a lot of institutions have been involved in it here for a very long time. India allows visitors to see all of this in a large geographical context, " says Warier.
India also provides a wide diversity in other aspects, such as urban and rural, start ups and established organisations, hybrids and for-profit models as well as organisations that work on a diverse range of issues.
Nair agrees that his experience with entrepreneurs in India gave him a broad view of what to expect. "The journey gave me a fabulous window into understanding the nuances between small and large, urban and rural. But it was meeting the people who had successfully transited out from the private sector that was very inspiring. They were not just trying to do good but were also applying their career knowledge towards this sector, " says Nair.
While Nair found the inspiration he was looking for, JFC has also played a role in making connections between those who visit India and those who are here. Some of these connections have led to foreign fundraising, new partnerships and word of mouth, making it a two-way interaction and subsequent collaboration.
Kolkata Sanved, for instance, an organisation that works for trafficked women, through meeting a participant on a journey received a prize and funding in the UK. On another subsequent journey, it partnered with a UK social enterprise called Living Lens that uses video for social change, to run a project on trafficked women around the 2012 Olympics. In another example, Jim King, who runs a UKbased social enterprise providing telephone-based counselling to addicts, worked with Indian partners to set up a similar organisation in Tamil Nadu after such a journey in 2009.
Alderson believes that the collaborative part is essential to the project's sustainability. He says, "It would be realistic to say that we are conscious of the space where value can flow between the two partners. It is also a litmus test for us - we keep going back to several hosts and none of them have said, 'Don't come back again', yet. "
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