Setting up a social enterprise - how did our students get on?

PCL Students in India

A group of our BSc (Honours) Business and Enterprise students recently ventured to India to work on a social enterprise project. Here they tell us how they got on.

Over the last few months we’ve been studying a social entrepreneurship module and have taken on the challenge of developing a strategy to support communities struggling through India’s agrarian crisis. We have been working with Pave, a UK social enterprise; Chetana Vikas, a non-Governmental organisation in India and No Nasties, an ethical fashion brand.

To give the project some context, In Maharashtra state, India, an uncommonly high proportion of farmers are committing suicide, with this number reaching 17,000 in 2011. This is largely down to financial difficulty; small independent cotton farmers have invested in genetically modified cotton seeds, using credit from banks. After crops have failed, many farmers have turned to loan sharks and other sources of credit. This is an agrarian crisis, and these debts cause a range of socio-economic problems, including declines in living standards, taking children away from education and poor physical and mental health.

Sam, final year student.

Upon arriving in India, we first went to Goa, where we met Apu from No Nasties, an ethical clothing brand, and one of our partners on this project. We decided that during our time in Goa, we’d focus on what we wanted to achieve, who we’d target, and what our message would be.

We first focused on our audience – who did we want to target our social enterprise at? As a group, we agreed on targeting ethically conscious consumers and university students. We then moved on to brainstorm ideas for our brand – how do we want our social enterprise to be seen? We decided to focus on clouds, which share a name with raw cotton in Hindi, and bring the moisture that brings prosperity to the farmers. Every cloud has a silver lining – we feel this really gets across the impact we’re trying to achieve.

Calvin, second year student.

The cloud will be made of ‘chindi’ – upcycled material and will be two tone in colour to represent the two aspects of the cloud, sunny and rainy. The women were in the first instance asked to produce an array of clouds, following which Shweta from No Nasties developed the prototypes further and set the template.

The social enterprise will operate using a gift economy model: consumers can donate any amount for the cloud which in turn will guarantee a wage to the person who made it. As students, our role going forwards will be to raise awareness and secure funding to launch and sustain the project.

Taz, final year student.

After a couple of days in Goa, we flew to Nagpur, in Maraharastra state. From there we travelled to Wardha (about 90 minutes drive from our hotel) and met Niranjana from Chetana Vikas, who we’ve been liaising with over the course of this module, as well as the beneficiaries that we’ll be handing over the project to. We spoke to them about our objectives, and our product ideas.

I came with the expectations that the beneficiaries wouldn’t know too much, and we’d have to teach them the skills they’d need to make the cloud-shaped gift we’ve set upon. I was astounded by the knowledge they have of upcycling, and the ideas they have - they are teaching us loads!

Ryan, second year student.

Our penultimate day in Nagpur consisted of field visits to various villages, communities and townships which contained self-help groups and enterprises supported by Chetana Vikas. It will be these projects who receive further benefit from our initiative alongside the salaries given to the individual producers of our product.

Importantly, the day provided us with an invaluable insight into the beneficiaries' lives, which we never could have gained otherwise. Speaking from my own experience, I took a huge inspiration out of their relentless mission to improve the standard of living for themselves, their families and their community in even the toughest of circumstances.

Ed, final year student.

We left Nagpur on a twelve-hour sleeper train, headed for Mumbai. On arrival we met with No Nasties, for a final briefing and to complete our action plan. Afterwards, we proceeded to visit ‘India Gate’ and had some early drinks at the Taaj Hotel.

On our last day we took a ‘Reality Tour’ of Mumbai’s slums, meeting other social enterprises that are working on various projects such as providing hearing aids to children who would have otherwise not been able to attend school, and giving access to education and hygiene classes. Our guide, Champ, gave us a great insight of life as a slum dweller. The amount of businesses found within the slum was a great discovery although health and safety left little to imagination, which made many of us appreciate little things in life we take for granted and has aspired us to remain committed to sustainability in business.

Taz, final year student.