As an entrepreneur, deciding how to make your mark in a sustainable way is no easy undertaking. Ravi Machani, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Bangalore, India, founded IndiVillage--an innovative model for empowering rural women and youth that introduces balance to India's system where cities grow uncontrollably while rural villages have few economic opportunities. For his work in creating a sustainable and repeatable model for economic empowerment that addresses multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals, Ravi Machani was named the 2019 EO Global Citizen of the Year. We asked Ravi to share his story:
When I met Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the "people's president" of India, it changed me forever. It was 2009, and I was the National Leader of the Young Business Leaders Forum when Dr. Kalam asked our cohort how the future leaders of India would give back to this great nation, where 70 percent of the population lives on $2 a day.
India has 600,000 rural villages left behind by its urban centers, which are growing unsustainably. The balance is missing. He suggested that we each take on a rural community and change it forever. I took his suggestion to heart.
All we lacked in marginalized communities was economic opportunities, exposure to monetize these opportunities and global relationships connecting us to high-value communities around the world.
Building on my experiences with Information Technology (IT) and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITeS), in 2010 I founded IndiVillage, which uses impact sourcing to bring employment to rural women and youth. Our "Profit for All" model reinvests profits in holistic community development through social impact initiatives like clean drinking water, healthcare and education.
A unique value proposition
We started the project with the end result in mind. Being economically sustainable was non-negotiable.
Our philosophy is of value flowing between three stages: Enable, earn and empower.
Rural economies lack opportunities, while urban communities struggle with excess opportunistic growth. There is value in bridging that gap. It made sense to offer ITeS, where our rural team could be the back office to the world.
We've brought together the best of all worlds: Conscious customers invested in uplifting the underprivileged, a low-cost and motivated rural workforce, and passionate leaders in urban communities who nurture and grow global opportunities. Hence we pursued "chances" and not "charity."
Holistic community development
In addition to quality jobs for 187 employees, IndiVillage provides more than 200 school children with free education and two nutritious meals per day, and nearly 13,000 people with clean drinking water. By investing profits back into the community, everyone becomes a stakeholder and beneficiary.
We've addressed the inequality gap by providing education to the most economically marginalized children in the village. Education is a fundamental human right that builds individual capacity, fosters positive social values and nurtures sustainable communities.
In addition, 40 percent of IndiVillage's workforce are women--many are mothers of school children. This addresses gender inequity and helps stabilize the workforce and therefore the benefits the community receives. We strongly believe that empowering women benefits not only their immediate family but also their village and the entire community.
Breaking the cycle of poverty and gender inequity
Through gender workshops, women's training and capacity-building programs, we aim to raise awareness of and help reverse gender inequality. Through impact strategies and campaigns, the project supports women in achieving success, raising competence and confidence, and expanding their scope of involvement. These exemplary women are primary breadwinners for their rural communities. Their stories, told in inspirational videos, help break the cycle of poverty and inequality.
An evolving, self-sustaining model
IndiVillage was set up as an ITeS and IT outsourcing facility which trained and employed rural women and youth on basic data entry and medical transcription. Over ten years, we have evolved to provide services for more advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, web development and machine learning, which we never imagined. For a rural impact sourcing facility to provide such cutting-edge services is significant, and its sustainable growth with minimal supervision after becoming profitable is noteworthy.
From a 40-member team doing basic data entry and image editing, IndiVillage today caters to global customers offering complex IT and ITeS services. Researchers are studying our model for empowering rural women and youth. Our recent B-Corp certification validates both our efforts in community development and our focus that goes beyond economic returns.
Long-term, I would like to duplicate IndiVillage in other regions to provide sustainable employment to vulnerable populations.
Be the change
As entrepreneurs, we hold the power to catalyze change in our world. I encourage business leaders to:
- Support the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals in your company and community.
- Collaborate with other entrepreneurs and stakeholders, working together to maximize impact through holistic community development initiatives.
- Get involved at multiple levels--by designating a quota within your system to provide work for marginalized populations, creating a small cell that employs rural workers or starting a charitable foundation.
- Broaden focus beyond financial currency and consider impact currency, goodwill currency and community empowerment, all of which can hugely benefit society.
Now that we've successfully tested our project for a decade, we wish to be a platform that nurtures this ecosystem as a model social enterprise that others are inspired to emulate.
Consider adopting our easily portable model--we are willing to share it--and create a similar project in your region. It just needs enterprising entrepreneurs to drive its success.
Once we start looking at global challenges from a macro perspective and plan backward to create micro objectives toward achieving them, it will culminate in a more sustainable and cohesive society.