Deshpande on Entrepreneurship-Part 22: Two Big Challenges for a Social Impact Project

Desh Deshpande

By Desh Deshpande

(Editor’s note: This is Part-22 of the weekly video column with philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande, with excerpts from his book “On Entrepreneurship and Impact.” This column appears every Monday.)

Desh Deshpande

Evaluating an early stage idea for a social impact project is different than a for-profit enterprise.

The first part is relevance.

In the case of technological innovation, you always start with some idea the world has never seen before. This idea will not have an impact on the world unless it addresses a burning problem.

The formula for technological innovation is:

Innovation + Relevance = Impact

The Deshpande Center at the MIT finds relevance to ideas that the world has not known before.

When it comes to social innovation, it is the other way round. The formula goes something like this:

Relevance + Innovation = Impact

Here, the most important thing is a deep understanding of the social issue itself. That is the core competency. You then bring whatever new ideas are needed to solve that problem. Those ideas don’t have to be patentable, technically brilliant or provide a huge competitive advantage.

The second part that’s equally important is distribution capability.

In the for-profit context, the distribution models are relatively clear with typically well-established channels available for most products.

In the case of a social impact project, you have to rely on “insiders” within the community that you are targeting to help distribute your solution. You need to find passionate, committed people who are interested and willing to go the last mile to implement the solution that you are creating.

Without this distribution model, chances are high that your idea will face infant mortality however attractive it might sound on paper.

The passionate, committed group of people may need to be trained as they may not have all the talent and capabilities to immediately execute your plan. You need to factor in this investment in preparing the local resources if you want to have a successful implementation.

By finding the passionate, committed group of people from within the impacted community who can help distribute your solution, will also help address the issue of relevance as they will bring a deeper understanding of local issues.

In summary, you will have successful social impact if it is relevant and you can find and train passionate, committed people from the local communities that can help execute your idea.

 (About Desh Deshpande: During his entrepreneurial career spanning over three decades, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande has built several companies. He has injected his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship into a number of social impact initiatives in India, the USA and Canada. He has been recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments by many institutions including being named co-chair of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He currently also serves as a Life Member of the MIT corporation. He resides in Boston together with his wife, Jaishree.)


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