“Innovation” is a word used for almost everything these days, we’ve been told it’s no longer wise to use the word in a grant proposal, when promoting something new, because ‘everything is innovative’. English has such limitations but I’ll persist, since we can’t use the word, this is how we see it (word) at Be! Fund
For us, it’s about providing risk capital, not debt, to the poorest young people in India. When we make an investment in a business, we also make in investment in that young person. We trust them to really be an entrepreneur and to do what’s best to create a successful business with their own ideas.
For us, it’s about trust, our trust in young people to be real problem solvers and job creators in their communities, whether it is a slum in the heart of India or the smallest village not even on the map.
It’s also about having a phone number where people can call and tell us their business idea. There’s no paper application; there’s no box to tick whether your idea is to start a water business, a restaurant, or a handicraft cooperative. It’s up to you. And we’re here to listen to whatever crazy or not-so-crazy idea you may have. For us it’s about erasing obstacles and boundaries for participation, inviting all young people across India to call us with their ideas (you don’t have to speak English, have internet, or have it all written down, know someone to introduce us). The revolution is that any young person anywhere in India can call us. Yep, for us the “it”, is a phone call.
We want to break down barriers—no forms, no debt, no precedent—we want to create a a wide open field for possibility. Because honestly, if something is really that thing we’re talking about, then we should not even be able to recognize it; we will need time to understand the idea being presented to us, stretch our minds, begin to understand something new, that has no precedent, that is unproven, but yes, it may just solve the problem in that community, at that time. This is where the trust factor comes in. We must accept that a 19-year-old young woman with a high school degree, who is explaining an idea that we might not fully understand yet, is more of an expert on her business idea and market than we are. We believe that the ‘it’ can be surprising, confusing, humbling and inspiring all at the same time. And truly underscoring the word fun, you won’t even know what it is!
Then on the other hand, we also believe IT doesn’t have to be a brilliant idea that no one has ever heard of. We’ve all heard of solar lanterns, but Mageshwari has pushed the boundaries in her old mining village, not only creating solar lanterns for children to study in evening tuition centers but also retro-fitting children’s desk lamps for home use too. She’s created small lanterns that run on a solar charge for nearly six hours and cost Rs. 400 (less than $8.00), including the solar panel. She’s even put together one panel that attaches to three household light bulbs, bright light to over 100 houses in her village. She is creating new products, new technologies for people who need them the most. We call that the IT factor. Yes, that’s IT.
The thing we’re talking about could be the product or service, but it can also be the market it is reaching, or the way in which it is reaching those people. 20-year-old Yellawa sells bitter gourd pickles., but no one was buying them with as much relish as they did her sweet ginger chutney. Her customers thought that the pickles were actually bitter. What did she do? She created Rs. 5 ($0.10) sample packets so they could taste how delicious they were – a small change with big impact – suddenly her bitter gourd pickles were a huge hit. That would be IT. It’s also about creating innovative solutions to problems that large companies overlook. They solve problems through identifying market gaps and filling them with their own small businesses.
Gowramma experienced firsthand the high-cost of basic nutrition supplements. Her husband lives with HIV as do many others in her community but they cannot afford branded nutrition powders, which boost their immune systems and keep them healthy. She decided to work with a sector expert to create her own brand Nutrition+, improving the health not only of HIV/AIDs families but also of those suffering from malnutrition. Gowramma’s idea was so brilliant it sparked a competing business nearby but her beautiful label with nutrition facts and a number to call makes her different, makes her more successful.
We also consider IT, the new idea, to be relative to the community where our entrepreneurs are from. For me, a roti is a piece of dried bread. For Kavita, a member of a low caste community in Northern Karnataka, her roti business is a way of breaking down caste barriers as she sells her tasty goods to high caste hotel owners.
‘It’ for us is risk capital, a phone call, trust, & the young person who trusts us enough to come forward and tell us their plans.
Trust, just might be he biggest ‘innovation’ out there, trusting that you don’t know and someone else does, trusting the unknown because it just might be the youngest poorest young person on the planet who has the key to changing the world.
Go on, trust someone today with their idea.