My name is Pranshu Maheshwari, and I’m proud to say that I’m a new member of the team at GEN! I got involved with GEN after talking to Clara, and meeting the team at a small presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m a student in the Huntsman Program at Penn, and an entrepreneur myself, working on a retail analytics startup called Prayas Analytics.
As a new member of GEN, my first engagement was attending this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) conference in Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ). I’ve been interested in the non-profit space for a long time, and importantly at finding sustainable ways for non-profits to run. While talking to a few friends who worked at non profits a year ago, it struck me that a major issue in the space is that sources of funding are growing slower than the number of non-profits. This conundrum was very evident at CGIU. The conference had over 1200 attendees – that meant over 1200 commitments to action and ideas to change the world, one community at a time. The innovation in ideas was impressive, as was the dedication of those who attended. Unfortunately, so too was my gut feeling that the traditional model of non-profits cannot sustain these many efforts that are dependent on grant money.
An excellent point raised by Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, during the conference was the problem of non-profit proliferation. The US has over 1.5 million registered non-profits. Conservative estimates place the number for India at over 2 million. The dedication of those starting and working at non-profits is incredible, as is the work that they do. But as the number of these organizations increases, each one’s share in the common pool of resources decreases. The amount of funding available to NGOs hasn’t kept up with the almost Malthusian explosion in their numbers.
Solving the difficult problem of making NGOs self-sustaining is challenging, but that is exactly what the sector needs innovation for. CGIU reflected the somewhat static nature of non-profit models; their way of operation has not changed as much as they need to. It is strange too – this static mode of operation is what one would associate with large companies, not small and dedicated non-profits. Silicon Valley seems to throw out its preferred business model every six months – its incredible to think that tech startups are already looking beyond the Lean Startup model. Yet the non-profit model doesn’t seem to have adapted much.
This was one of the reasons I decided to get involved with GEN. It’s an innovative model that’s trying to solve the problem of financial unsustainability, while maintaining an NGO’s dedication and focus on action. Using entrepreneurship as our vehicle of change means that our transformational activities can sustain themselves. I see it almost as a micro-venture capital fund with our model to help create entrepreneurs through a small amount of capital, and a large amount of mentorship. It also fits in with our goal to empower people rather than give them handouts. I always feel that I’d rather empower a poor family to buy its own shoes rather than give them their shoes for free. After all, if a woman in extreme poverty gets a pair of shoes, her situation is still the same, except not barefoot anymore. Better than nothing certainly, but we can do better. That’s what I believe GEN can accomplish.
It was heartening to hear the encouragement of the severalwonderful people we met CGIU when we told them about the GEN model. Many had great suggestions and feedback for us, as well as several invitations to bring our model to many other parts of the world– invitations that I’m sure we’ll take up in good time!