Do I qualify to design a solution to a problem? Yes I do!
With this blog, I and my team would like to reflect on our learning during a 7-week online course on ‘Human Centred Design’ with +Acumen and present the methodology we used. Our team “Apaches!” had the following members:
a) Abhishek b) Sayeed c) Muskan d) Akanksha

As a part of the process, we had to choose a problem statement. Based on the given readings and virtual meetings, we decided to pursue this challenge:

How Might We Enable More Young People to Become Social Entrepreneurs?

Sensing and Empathy Mapping:

While more and more young people are interested in social entrepreneurship as a means for tackling some of the world’s toughest challenges, many aspiring social entrepreneurs fail to move beyond the initial idea phase because the infrastructure to support them is lacking. Some are unable to gain access to networks or mentors who could provide the knowledge and experience to confront major decisions, while others lack the capital they need to start their venture.

We had 4 types of interactions as suggested in the course – ‘Learn from people’, ‘Learn from Experts’, ‘Immerse yourself in the context’, and ‘Seek Analogous Inspiration’. We came across interesting opinions to look at the problem in a broad spectrum.

a) Learn from People:
We approached a wide pool of people including students pursuing post-graduation in Business Administration, graduates, their families and start-up founders. They said that they see huge potential for a career as an entrepreneur given that India is a big market and think that financial resources are a major factor that determines confidence of an entrepreneur starting up. Surya Teja, an MBA graduate said that the expensive structure of quality education in India results in young people burdened with repayment of loan and thus, people like him would prefer working as a salaried employee to attain financial stability before they venture into starting up something of their own. Also, the exposure to social issues among well-to-do young people is not enough. The previous generation reinforces that youth is fast-paced, lacks the understanding of problems and are impatient to find long-term solutions that address root causes but rather look for temporary fixes. Given the current scenario, youth aspirations seem to be far away from social entrepreneurship unless they are financially well backed.

Learning by meeting people

b) Learn from Expert:
Rahul Nainwal, founder of iVolunteer brings an interesting point during the discussion. He says that often, people fail to demarcate the thin line distinguishing between an ‘Entrepreneur’ and a ‘Social Entrepreneur’. While many people come up with ideas and business models that generate profit, to become a social entrepreneur, it takes a lot more effort. As per him, one qualifies as a social entrepreneur if one’s business model is suited to have a considerable impact on a certain social issue. The same model can be horizontally deployed in any other area having similar challenges but it has to be sustainable.

Experts Speak!

Therefore it becomes increasingly important for a social entrepreneur to have ample amount of exposure to the development sector in order to understand how stakeholders function before setting up a full-fledged venture. With so many organizations and trusts willing to support social entrepreneurs financially, Rahul lays stress on the point that finance is hardly a constraint if you have a brilliantly worked out idea. Another key factor is sustaining the model for a long time with the pretext of maximizing the impact for end users at grassroots. With an experience of mentoring social leaders and entrepreneurs, Rahul restates the importance of perseverance. While many young people start with a lot of positive inspiration, they tend to back out when there is a need to synchronise their work with the end users owing to ‘n’ number of factors including generation gap, literacy levels, technological challenges, cultural differences etc. In such situations, the design has to flexible enough to adapt to maximum number of variables.

c) Immerse yourself into the context:

Interaction with a diverse group of young people

With the help of ice breakers, we interacted with 20 people and tried assuming roles as entrepreneurs ourselves. To get diverse perspectives, workshop were hosted with participants from backgrounds such as fashion, medicine, architecture, engineering, mathematics and the responses puzzled our understanding about the challenge. There were multiple dimensions thus we were flooded with ideas to solve the problem. Another surprising element during these sessions was the dropout rate when we talked of a larger period of time and a broader horizon. The youth were keen on short-term assignments that yield swift results. It did not matter if the area of impact was localized.

Perspective gathering sessions

d) Analogous Inspiration:
To seek analogous inspiration, we set out to rural India. Raushil, a village in Uttarakhand was chosen considering the fact that it had a larger population of youth. They are prone to several social challenges such as poor connectivity, shortage of water, no electricity and incompetent market. Then there is the role of local governance and related policies. The lives in these remote areas are highly dependent on available schemes and benefits. Any initiative is directly related to bureaucracy. The challenges are unique. There is a lot of potential and young people are quite positive. With the human capital available in abundance and nothing much to lose, a willingness to take the first step is encouraging. However, given the accessibility to govt. schemes and delays at each level of bureaucracy, the ground level implementation remains shadowed.

Understanding an Analogous Case

Deeper Insights:

Based on virtual meetings and in-person interactions, the team was successful in transforming initial research into actionable insights. Each of the team members had individually interacted with 10 people on an average. We created a database with a list of people we interacted with, their personal information, stories, comments on the subject and barriers to their progress. This interaction was further summarized and classified into 4 categories as themes:

  • Financial Investment
  • Mentorship
  • Competition
  • Collaboration
Post it wall – Summarizing Inspiration phase, themes, Insights and ‘How Might We’s’

Three prominent insights were shortlisted:

Insight 1: Young entrepreneurs often get stuck in their ventures due to lack of seeding investment.

There were many interactions which implied that we are short of ecosystems where we can develop young social entrepreneurs. They are neither financially backed nor morally encouraged by prominent stakeholders like parents, friends and funders. It is seen that the only option left is to give up. Parents often seek a more “secure” career option for their children and even young people consider it a good idea to become financially stable before trying out something of their own. Steady income becomes important to pay for quality education.     
How Might We:
* How might we encourage young people to implement their Social Entrepreneurship Ideas?
* How might we create a balanced ecosystem for young Social Entrepreneurs?

Insight 2:  Lack of guidance prompts 70% of social entrepreneurs to drop out their ideas.

While interviewing the experts, we came across the specifics. The thin line between an Entrepreneur and Social Entrepreneur is tricky and hardly a few young people are aware of it. There are a lot of stakeholders and a clear evidence of lack of clarity in the understanding among youth. The approach could be faulty, due to this reason. Along with that, we lack easily approachable mentors who can nurture young people and thereby, can benefit them with their experiences.
How Might We:
* How might we reduce the gap between a conceptualized idea and the end product design/output of a young Social Entrepreneur?

Insight 3: As an adverse effect of competition, young Entrepreneurs prioritize short-term results and focus less on long-term solutions.

This one was quite evident when we visited the milk cooperative at Suyalbadi village in Uttarakhand. Set up and run by women, it initially made decent profits by making and selling sweets. But soon as dairy giant Aanchal introduced similar products at a cheaper price, the local cooperative had to think of operational costs and limit their production only to one product. Similar situations arise, forcing young people to look for short-term and profit making enterprises. This has a drastic impact on sustenance. The existence of big players in the market also shakes the confidence of smaller firms to exist. Geographical adversities add to it.
How Might We:
* How might we orient a young Social Entrepreneur to have a long-term vision?

Insight 4:  Collaboration helps in mutual benefit of diverse firms.

Young Social Entrepreneurs fail to find platforms where they can interact with like-minded people to exchange ideas and learn. Collaboration helps add multiple dimensions and creative angles to any project. This could be clearly inferred during self-immersion. When people from diverse groups viz. Engineers, Architects, Fashion Designers, Medicine graduates and others engaged in problem solving, we were flooded with ideas and solutions. This is missing in real life, for Social Entrepreneurs as well. 
How Might We:
* How might we establish a working model that would help young Social Entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds benefit mutually?

Solution and prototype:
After classifying learning into thematic categories, we came up with as many as 12 prominent insights and did a brainstorming session. 41 ideas were generated which were then scrutinized based on their feasibility of implementation, impact and the following 17 ideas were shortlisted.

Ideas evaluation
Top 10 Ideas were chosen and prototypes were made to get end user feedback

Final Prototype:

a) Counseling sessions for parents with Social Experts:

Social Experts counselling the parents.

Feedback on prototype:

End user feedback

Final Pitch

  • We suggest the seeds of social entrepreneurship are sowed early, from high school itself and the potential is nurtured well. It will help kids get a hands-on experience with entrepreneurship at an early age.
  • A social expert team counsels parents and guardians who are skeptical about their wards venturing into social entrepreneurship and ensure that the youth are high on moral support.
  • Using the network, we schedule interactive sessions and heart to heart conversations between young entrepreneurs and experts in the field ensuring constant mentoring for a successful and long-term implementation of ideas.
  • Skill development wing focuses on up-skilling interested and talented entrepreneurs by engaging them into volunteering, internships and suitable professional courses.
  • Using social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp etc., our network wing creates platforms for young entrepreneurs to collaborate and have a diverse spectrum for assessing and addressing problems at hand.

Reflection And Takeaways

  • I would admit that this course was a ‘perspective change’ experience for me. My understanding of design earlier was ‘To put a conceptual idea into a written form’. It had more to do with what an individual thought about the concept. With Human Centered Design, I have learnt the right way of doing things. It has taught me why a certain design yields perfection only if it is tailor-suited to its end user.
  • This is the first time I’ve completed an online course, a big surprise for me!
  • Earlier, I preferred using technology to assist me in doing things. As the course mandates ‘Post-it-Walls’ and other interactive ways to have sessions, it made me discover my ability to compress huge volume of data creatively into small pieces of paper. Moving forward, I see myself relying on offline resources as well, specially while I engage in creative thinking.
  • The most unexpected moment was during the prototyping stage when one of our ideas, which we had rated as ‘Star’ was discarded by the community. This reinforced the importance of constantly taking feedback and improvising.

I would take three important lessons from this course into my work:

  1. Working in teams always helps in having more perspectives
  2. Prototyping is an essential part
  3. Feedback-improvisation cycle is unavoidable for betterment of design
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