Across Indian society, entrepreneurial instincts and inclinations of a rapidly growing population are becoming increasingly visible and are exerting a rising influence on the economy. This transition, more akin to a phenomenon, is driven by demand for new products and services and is not limited to ‘start-ups’ or new micro, small, and medium enterprises in urban locations. In rural India as well, aspirations have changed and though they might still be a minority, many young women and men now look to entrepreneurship as an alternative to employment. Job opportunities are, quite simply, not being created at a fast enough pace and when available, are often low paying, uncertain, and undignified.
How then, as a nation, do we deal with the challenge of jobless growth and fulfill the aspirations of over 12 million annual entrants into the workforce? As argued by the authors of the January edition of the Development Alternatives Newsletter, grassroots entrepreneurship that is inclusive in nature and enabled at massive scale is an imperative and perhaps the only option for a nation in pursuit of a broad range of inter-connected social, economic, and environmental goals. With an average of 3 jobs per enterprise, it would take only 500 new businesses a year in each of India’s approximately 8,000 development blocks to fulfill what might currently seem like an impossible target..
Development Alternative’s inclusive entrepreneurship initiatives intensely focus on creating local ecosystems that make it possible for job seekers to become job makers. Distinct from programmes that implement enterprise development schemes in a top-down, linear, and largely prescriptive manner, the social innovation approach to entrepreneurship-led job creation relies on the strengths of actors within rural communities as well as the power of collective intelligence and collaborative action. The aforementioned ‘run-rate’ for enterprise creation has actually been achieved in places such as Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh and Niwari in Madhya Pradesh.
Impact at scale cannot be achieved by consolidating activities undertaken in these locations into a ‘model‘ and transplanting it elsewhere. There is an urgent need to use the underlying approach for innovation in processes that unleash entrepreneurship at the grassroots, in every village, block, and district of the country. Breakthroughs need to lie at the heart of social innovation, emerging from carefully curated tools and methods for listening, co-creation, and prototyping of solutions that align apparently divergent goals of multiple stakeholders in local entrepreneurship ecosystems.
Grassroots innovation that is systemic in nature will not flourish on its own. It needs to be nurtured and this is where the role of civil society becomes critical. As drivers of change, meso-level social purpose organisations and social enterprises, such as those highlighted in the newsletter, have demonstrated motivation, understanding, and the ability to work with partner networks to amplify the impact of resources available with governments and the private sector. This they have done using increasingly cost-efficient and effective ways through system-shifting solutions such as District Entrepreneurship Coalitions.
Let us, therefore, change our approach to job creation at scale and invest much more intensively in using locally led micro movements of inclusive entrepreneurship. It should be the preferred means for the youth of our country to realise their dreams and build a vibrant and equitable economy with significantly greater decentralisation in points of value creation.