This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Even as India is increasingly recognized as a global power, the developing country continues to wrestle with vexing challenges. Some of the country’s leading entrepreneurs and corporate executives have come together to help scale solutions.
Atul Satija, 40, is leading the charge through an organization called The/Nudge Foundation. He says, “In India, we are adding 1 million people every month to the labor market. Roughly 50% come from poor backgrounds; more than 25% are school dropouts and 50% lack skills to be employable. At the same time, there is a skill deficit of 400 million people in the country in the foreseeable future.”
After just a few years of addressing this problem head on with a program called Gurukul, the leaders recognized that the social challenges in the country required additional interventions if poverty is to be eliminated. In response, they created another program called N/Core to incubate high-potential nonprofits to accelerate their scale in reaching millions of people.
Entrepreneurs and executives from some of India’s largest companies, including multinationals headquartered elsewhere are participating. Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, 64, is chairman and senior consultant cardiac surgeon for the company he helped found, Narayana Health, which went public in 2017 and has 15,900 employees, 50 facilities and 6,888 beds. He also serves on the advisory board for The/Nudge Foundation. The company reported EBITDA of 10.7% on $254 million in revenue.
“If a solution is not affordable it is not a solution,” Shetty, the consummate social entrepreneur, says. Over the nearly three decades since he returned to India from England where he was trained, he has focused relentlessly on bringing the cost of cardiac care down. In India, the biggest cost in healthcare, unlike the US, is not labor but infrastructure.
By operating the surgical suites 12 hours per day, six days per week rather than eight hours per day, five days per week, Narayana Health can perform more surgeries in each facility and with each piece of equipment over its useful life, significantly reducing the cost per surgery.
Shetty is excited about the work The/Nudge Foundation is doing. It’s primary work is to help vulnerable young people learn skills that will help them become more self-reliant. He says the work that Satija is leading “is extremely, extremely important for my country.”
“We have a serious problem. We need to find jobs for at least 300 million if they’re not gainfully employed, they can destroy everything,” Shetty says.
The Gurukul residential program works to help students create a successful life, so the program reaches beyond job skills to facilitate life skills.
Satija describes four tenets of the Gurukul program:
One of the core values of the organization is “impatience toward our goals,” Satija says. The focus on goals, on outcome and impact is relentless. “We measure everything.”
He says that 99% of students get job offers. Some choose to continue their education and others choose an entrepreneurial path, but a vast majority accept employment opportunities. Positions are offered in sales, driving, beauty and plumbing verticals.
Before entering the program, 60% of students were unemployed. Among the rest, they average a 40% increase in salary after completing the program.
The program is graduating 2,000 students per year, looking to increase that to 5,000 students in 2018.
The Gurukul program is funded via three channels: corporate social responsibility, foundations and individual donors. This allows the program to be delivered to students for free.
The other program at The/Nudge Foundation, N/Core was launched in 2017 with the goal of incubating more than 100 nonprofits over the next five years. “India’s challenges are large. Any simple problem you take, there are millions affected by it,” Satija says.
By training promising nonprofits to scale rapidly and effectively he hopes to address more problems more quickly. In order to address the needs, nonprofits need to be serving not hundreds or thousands of people but millions.
The first cohort is now completing the six-month training program begun in September. N/Core received 1,032 applications from 19 countries from 2,654 entrepreneurs. Just 10, less than 1% of the applicants, were admitted.
Satija says they plan to incubate two cohorts each year and they are working to build a network of funding sources to help the nonprofits raise more money to scale more quickly.
When he first started his career, Satija says he didn’t give much thought to social impact. About the time he turned 30, ten years ago, he began seeing social issues and he itched to address them more directly. At first he thought he’d give himself over to a new career focused on social issues in his 60s, later thinking 50s, then 40s, until finally in his late 30s, he made the switch. Now, he says, he’s content knowing what he’ll be doing for the rest of his life.
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