When you’ve been working on a conference for the best part of six months, your and your university’s name is plastered all over it, but it’s in another continent, it can be a wee bit nerve-jangling. That was my experience when we launched the UK India Social Entrepreneurship Education Network (UKISEEN) in collaboration with our partners the Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CSEI) at IIT Madras. I am glad to report that the conference was successful beyond our wildest dreams. Delegates from institutions across the UK and India congregated to discuss everything from curriculum development to incubation, and how best to model the skills of a social entrepreneur.
I have to thank several people for helping us pull off the conference. Firstly, British Council India, who funded the network through their Social Entrepreneurship Education Programme (SEEP). Secondly, the fantastic CSEI team who hosted it, including a crack team of student volunteers who were logistical heroes.
Thirdly, my own team at the University of Southampton’s Social Impact Lab, including our international ambassadors. Each of the students we chose to accompany us had a story to tell of how social entrepreneurship had enriched their student experience. They represented the full diversity of the social entrepreneurship spectrum at Southampton; we had student from our world-championship winning Enactus society, students who’d passed through our Social Enterprise module, some who had taken part in our Social Innovation Challenges, and others who had started their own social ventures. They did us proud.
Aims of the network
So what does the network seek to do? Well, we have some fairly ambitious aims! They include (deep breath):
- To facilitate the exchange of ideas between UK and Indian social entrepreneurs
- To promote the exchange of innovative uses of data and technology for social innovation
- To facilitate the exchange of talent between the UK and India ecosystems
- To build a vibrant community of student social entrepreneurs in the UK and India
- To build an inclusive ecosystem between universities, corporate business and government to promote UK-India social innovation exchange
Each of these is grounded in the belief that ours is a network of equals. The UK ecosystem has as much to gain from India as vice versa. The SE landscape in India is rich with lessons and inspiration for UK social entrepreneurs. For one, we saw first hand how technologically advanced much social innovation is in India, and there’s huge potential for ‘reverse innovation’ to help address some of our own pressing challenges in fields such as mobile health, among others. At the same time, we believe that our experience can benefit Indian institutions, social entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners too.
Perhaps above all, we witnessed the incredible power of cross-fertilisation when British and Indian students talked about their projects and their passion for social change. Offering a platform for discussion and exchange may be a simple intervention but it is also sometimes the most effective.
In the coming years, we aim to run a series of challenges, competitions and conferences to address joint challenges and opportunities for SE educators in the UK and India. We are particularly keen to understand how open data and emerging technologies can catalyse social innovation, and to find ways to diffuse best practice in each of these domains among higher education institutions in the UK and India.
We also plan to curate a live library of social ventures searchable by the sustainable development goals, to connect talent with ideas through bi-directional internships and hackathons, and to connect social entrepreneurs in the UK and India with external expertise in the fields of financial management, growth strategy, understanding social impact, data analysis, and technology application.
If you’re a UK higher education institution and would like to benefit from interaction with the Indian SE ecosystem, or think that your students would, please get in touch. The same goes for anyone who supports social entrepreneurs in the UK or India. If you’re a corporate business keen to support social entrepreneurship and like our vision, we’d be equally delighted to hear from you.
You can contact me at P.Pathak@soton.ac.uk, or my colleague Josie Francis at J.E.Francis@soton.ac.uk.