As an IDEX Fellow we are thrown into the field, landing in a social enterprise where we spend 6 months working to have an impact. In the end we achieve our impact and in the process our placement social enterprises impact us as well. As a fellowship program, a major objective of IDEX is for the fellows to learn and gain real experience. We all signed up exactly for that reason, but it is interesting that along the way our ambitions to achieve something greater leave us focusing more on the impact we have on our partner organizations than the impact they have on us.
In the social enterprise space passion and empathy hold a sort of holy position. These emotions feature heavily on About US pages and mission statements. Furthermore, possessing these feelings in droves if often used as a hiring screen. Apply for any position and during the interview you will be expected to evidence your passion and empathy or you won’t be getting the job. Social enterprises want to make sure that their employees share their values and their dedication to the mission. Generally this is rational and often absolutely essential to the success of the enterprise. Nevertheless in often overlooked cases, passion and empathy can be both dangerous and detrimental to the survival of the social enterprise. At the Indian School Finance Company the social mission critically depends upon purging the enterprise of passion and empathy, and replacing it with stone-cold professionalism.
Before Jaipur Rugs built its social impact empire the rug industry in India, like many others, exploited the village artisans who form the most critical part of the manufacturing process. Village rug weavers took a lot of risk and received little pay. These weavers had to purchase the handloom, source raw materials and find buyers for their products. Not surprisingly traders took advantage of the artisans’ desperation and position of relative weakness. Weavers did not have the time or ability to seek out competitive bids for purchasing their rugs, nor did they purchase raw materials with any scale that could leverage discounts. As a result weavers overpaid for material inputs and were underpaid for their exquisite outputs. Weavers were squeezed on both ends of the value chain, despite the fact that within this value chain, they added the most value!
The Indian School Finance Company needs to raise affordable capital and ought to do so by attracting impact investors. In most cases self-described impact investors are willing to receive much lower returns on their investments in exchange for a demonstrable social impact. The Indian School Finance Company is perfectly capable of demonstrating this impact and will benefit greatly from the lower rates of return offered by these investors.
It’s simple; Ayn Rand is a sociopath. Rand is on record as having idolized the maverick nature of an exceedingly perverse serial-killer. A man who savagely kidnapped, murdered and dismembered a 12 year old girl and led her father to believe that she was still alive so he could collect a ransom. He resolved to maintain this rouse as he met her father for the exchange. He tied her severed torso and head to the passenger seat of his car and sewed her eyes wide open with wire. After he was paid he tossed her mutilated corpse at her father’s feet and drove away laughing.[i] He is a truly grotesque role model. Yet Ayn Rand praised the murderer as “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred…A man who really stands alone…Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.”[ii]
It should come as no surprise then that her philosophy codifies a repulsive and radical individualism that praises greed, disdains empathy and encourages individuals to viciously appropriate for themselves every ounce of wealth they can muster. On the other hand, it should come as a surprise that seemingly intelligent human beings fervently obey the doctrines of this remorseless lunatic.
At first graduating from college in 2010 during a recession seemed like a pretty big bummer. I wanted to go into the field of international development, inspired by my father’s stories throughout his career in agricultural development. Yet every night at the dinner table I would hear that donor governments might make dramatic cutbacks on aid soon. Even in the good times I knew that the organizations my father worked for spent much of their efforts chasing funds, I thought with budget cutbacks it could only get worse. I thought, great this is just like Congressmen that have to spend forty-percent of their time hounding donors. There must be another way.
The Indian School Finance Company (ISFC) was created to expand access to quality education by facilitating the growth of affordable private schools. ISFC provides loans to affordable private schools to construct new school buildings for a safe and sanitary learning environment, buy tables and chairs to raise children off the floor, buy computers to help the students become digitally literate, buy buses to enable more students to reach the school and much more.
When it comes to IDEX and the IDEX experience the most important element is the fellows with which you will be sharing your new life. We all came together for the first time in Mumbai for the Inspiration Conference. Nevertheless, generally we did not meet in the formal confines of the conference, we met in the hotel in the days prior as each of us arrived to India. This inadvertent and informal introduction to our peers was glorious and far superior to any brief icebreaker activities IDEX could have designed. We engaged in vivid and uninhibited conversations, diving deeply into social enterprise, politics, religion, philosophy, history, literature, music and film.
The entire scope of the human condition is what matters. Quality of life in all its forms, whether that be access to healthcare, education, housing, safe drinking water, electricity, communications technology and financial services or the defense of human, civil and political rights or basic human dignity; quality of life is the central concern.
The challenges of providing these basic goods are fundamentally connected. Thus the poor are thrust into a spiral of mutually reinforcing moral outrages that are nigh impossible to escape. Let’s imagine for a moment a single mother fighting against poverty; at the moment she is employed in a relatively nice roadside shop and is slowly saving money to buy her own store and educate her two children.
Before heading off to my work in Hyderabad I had a brief orientation in Mumbai, which I chose to augment by arriving a week early and touring the city of 23 million people. My first few days in Mumbai were about soaking in my environment, trying not to get ripped off and staying alive.