The Khemka Forum 2010 took place on 11 and 12 November at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. In between an impassioned opening plea from SKS Microfinance Chairman Vikram Akula for the whole social sector to mobilize in support of microfinance in Andhra Pradesh and a lively closing exchange between an entrepreneur and an academic on the very identity of social business, participants continued to build a rapidly evolving network and ecosystem for impact investing and social entrepreneurship in India.
The annual forum, sponsored by the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, brought together about 130 social sector players at the Indian School of Business for two days of panel discussions and opportunities for funders, investors, social entrepreneurs, capacity-building organizations and thought leaders to connect with each other.
The opening and closing sessions were fitting bookends to the two-day-long forum, which saw in action the clearly announced intentions of many large institutional funders, such as USAID and the World Bank Group, to connect directly with, and seed the social enterprise space.
Participating investors and funders, many seeking investment-ready enterprises, and social entrepreneurs, many seeking capital, also furthered soul-searching about the nature of social business and impact investing, as well as debating the nature of the cultural and knowledge disconnect between top-level funders and grassroots entrepreneurs.
Panel discussions on a wide range of social topics consistently returned to a broad consensus on the need for further strategic philanthropy capacity-building services and a more developed social sector ‘ecosystem’ of viable social business models, impact assessment metrics and investor networks for both investors and entrepreneurs. In the words of one entrepreneur: ‘The social sector has to build the internet before it can invent a Google.’
Networking and capacity-building organizations such as the Duke University Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), FSG Social Impact Advisors, the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) and Dasra held workshops directly addressing these needs in areas such as human resource structure, the gap between practice and theory, shared metrics and investor due diligence.
Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) representatives at the forum led a thought-provoking and interactive roundtable discussion on impact investing from an investor’s perspective. The group discussed widely shared concerns about the severe lack of existing early-stage funding for social enterprises for whom commercial viability is still a distant goal. The roundtable ended in wide agreement that the social sector is in critical need of further research on the part of strategic philanthropy organizations to identify and analyze the diverse types of capital most suited for enterprises at varying stages in their growth cycles – from start-up to growth stage, and on to maturity.
Alternative energy providers SELCO and Husk Power Systems, rural markets trailblazers Sahki Retail and MART, and sanitation and waste management leader Waste Ventures were some of the enterprises that joined the forum. Acumen Fund, the Rockefeller, Ford, and Shell Foundations, World Bank Group, GIIN and a number of other high-profile funders contributed their perspective to the diverse group.
Neera Nundy is co-founder of Dasra. Email Neera@dasra.org