The “Jholewala” Business Leader: Rise of Social Entrepreneurship in India – Interview with Dr. Madhukar Shukla

One topic that comes up very frequently in business schools these days is that of entrepreneurship. And today “Social Entrepreneurship” has become quite the buzzword with many seminars and competitions promoting it. But what kind of sorcery is it exactly and from whence did it suddenly spring?

Grave questions all. So I decided to interview an expert in the field, Dr. Madhukar Shukla who is one of the most revered professors at XLRI, and was kind enough to take out some time from his schedule and grant us an interview on the social sector, which is very close to his heart.


A brief introduction:

Dr Madhukar Shukla is Chairperson, Fr Arrupe Centre for Ecology & Sustainability and Professor (Strategic Management & OB) at XLRI Jamshedpur.

He has served as a member of the Advisory Council of University Network for Social Entrepreneurship (founded by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public and Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Oxford University), and is also a Member, Livelihood India Advisory Board. He has served on the Jury for the Microfinance Award ’07, instituted by PlaNet Finance, and was a lead assessor for the India NGO Awards 2007, 2008 & 2009. He is the Conference Coordinator for the National Conference on Social Entrepreneurship, an annual national conference since 2009.


Prof. Madhukar Shukla, XLRI Jamshedpur
Prof. Madhukar Shukla, XLRI Jamshedpur



Q. Can you please share with us a few insights on the growth of the social sector and why it is so much in the limelight these days?

A. The sector was always there. It has just become more popular. Traditionally, social entrepreneurship is using entrepreneurial methods to make a social impact. One of the best examples was ‘Dandi March’. The term was not created but if you look at the Nationalist Movement, if you look at examples like Vinoba Bhave or Jayaprakash Narayan, the sector was always there. The only thing that has changed is that from somewhere around 2007-08 it has become more mainstream. One hunch I have about why it happened is that in 2006, the Nobel peace prize went to Muhammad Yunus for Gramin Bank. And Muhammad Yunus is on the board of Ashoka, Ashoka being the largest network of social entrepreneurs. He got known as a ‘Social Entrepreneur” and perhaps that is one reason for the growth in popularity of the sector. It has become more mainstream in India because of certain things like the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award, given out when the World Economic Forum is held in India in January. Much of the electronic media like Young Turks or Amazing Indians, a large number of their stories are on people working in the Social Sector.


What do you do for money honey? (Image credits: Priyank Bhatt)
What do you do for money honey?
(Image credits: Priyank Bhatt)



Q. Previously it was considered a deterrent that if you add ‘social’ to anything, it becomes associated with something where you won’t make any money and which doesn’t make good business sense. So what happened? Has there been a mentality change or are people more aware that something like this can actually make business sense as well as contributing to society?

A. Considering social entrepreneurship in India, when you take the concept of BOP (Bottom of Pyramid) where a large number of social entrepreneurs work, providing education, health care, credit etc., people thought whoever works in a village is a part of a NGO who’ll be surviving on grants and funding. Now you find people who are willing to invest in those ventures which did not exist previously. Investors in India or Impact Investors as they’re called, nearly all have come within the last 7-8 years. So now there are organizations which say if you can come up with an idea that makes business sense, we’re willing to provide you with seed funding.

The media also plays a role in terms of making people aware that these things are possible. You find many websites like The Alternative, Your Story, Better India, Weekend Leaders, which feature such stories. You also find changes academically. If you see in the present scenario, a large number of institutes especially business schools, have a course on social entrepreneurship. The one problem that had plagued urban India in the past was that whenever you attached the word ‘social’ to something, it was considered ‘jholawala’. So that perception is ending. Plus you also find many support organizations which maybe early stage funders, incubators, etc. have come up. A lot of educational institutions are now coming up with social B-plan contests, some of them very large and spanning many countries. So people do some groundwork and research and are now more aware.

Another change you find is that some of the youth movements, which started around 2008-09 like Jagriti Yatra, which started in December, 2008, many ventures come out of that every year. About 60% of people who join the Yatra, join the sector. And these organizations have alumni networks. For any sector to grow, you need an ecosystem is very important. And these ecosystems are now developing.



Q. What do you feel are the leadership challenges a social entrepreneur will face as he looks to get ahead in the industry?

A. These will be the same leadership challenges that all entrepreneurs face, that at some point of time you have to let go. You can’t micromanage. As organizations grow larger, you will find in many small-scale industries that the founders are unable to move out of the founder’s role and to a governance role. They stay entrepreneurs. And this leads to problems. So creating a governance structure is a big industry challenge which many social entrepreneurs are unable to do. Those who have grown and successfully sustained their enterprise are those who were able to create a second team which does the actual managing. Their role becomes a more strategic challenge.

The second challenge is the HR challenge of getting the right people. It may not be a leadership challenge per se, but in letting go, the ability to create those systems and processes which will take care of the primary vision of the organization is a big issue. When these organizations generally start, a lot of it isn’t planned. You intuitively do things which feel right, you learn. But then you have to create the systems and processes so that the operation works the way it should be working which is something people often cannot do. That is a different capability.

Another, challenge which all organizations face and not just ones in this sector is that organizations do require having a lot of advocacy done. You work within a regulatory environment, so you have to influence the regulations. And influence them legitimately, not by bribes. So you have to put your point forth in a way which would be acceptable to people, you have to negotiate. That becomes a challenge when they grow, how to interact with these agencies, and to form partnerships. One difference I see between the corporate sector and the social sector, is that the growth of corporate sector is through having a competitive strategy, whereas the growth of social sector is by having a collaborative strategy, because they can grow only by collaborating with the other stakeholders, which may be the government or other social sectors, other partnering organizations. That becomes the main leadership role.


As told to Nadeem



Nadeem is currently trying to make sense of Life, the Universe and Everything coming to the end of his first year at XLRI, Jamshedpur and really looking forward to his summer internship.
He’s also a music lover, master of 3 musical instruments, undiscovered singing prodigy, class jester, wordsmith, and the secret identity of Superman all rolled into one charming package.

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Nadeem Raj

Nadeem is a class of 2015 student at XLRI, Jamshedpur in the HR stream after working for 3 and a half years with TCS in the Program Management function. He is a big fan of literature and music and will be doing his summer internship with Novartis Pharmaceuticals.