17 May 2018
Creating Opportunity for Indian Entrepreneurs
A unique training program tackles a nation’s jobs shortage by supporting new employersRe: Jay Misra (MBA 1982); Bharat Bhargava (MBA 1967)by Jennifer MyersTopics:
Photo by David Kelly Crow
Harsh Bhargava (MBA 1977) was visiting his hometown of Jaipur, India, in 1999 when tragedy struck.
In the midst of an unemployment crisis during the Kargil War, the government advertised for 120 open positions in the nearby town of Jhunjhunu. More than 100,000 young men showed up looking for work.
“The government was not prepared to handle a fraction of that number,” says Bhargava, who is president of the Washington, DC–based consulting company Bankworld. “Things got out of control.”
Police opened fire, killing three of the young men.
The incident ate at Bhargava, and led to an idea: Why not create job creators instead of job seekers through an entrepreneurship training program at the grassroots level?
In a serendipitous twist, that same year, as part of an HBS alumni outreach program, Bhargava had volunteered to provide strategic help to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) in New York, working with inner-city at-risk youth. He saw a presentation by then-NFTE president Steve Mariotti and was impressed by the organization’s practical curriculum for teaching entrepreneurship.
Bhargava and his wife, Aruna, a retired sociology professor at Rutgers University, adapted the NFTE program for India, dubbing it I Create. Aruna interviewed dozens of Indian entrepreneurs, seeking role models for Indian youth, and used 12 of their stories to write the book Everyday Entrepreneurs: The Harbingers of Prosperity and Creators of Jobs (Sangam Books, 2001).
The HBS connection proved important again while the Bhargavas were building I Create, as Harsh tapped Jay Misra (MBA 1982) to help him find funders, register as a 501(c)3, and form the structure of the organization. Misra has served on the I Create board since its launch.
The two first met in 1999 when Misra reached out to HBS alumni in New York to participate in a voluntary outreach program to help local nonprofit institutions. Bhargava and Misra, who had found early success as an investment executive and founder or three tech startups, quickly became good friends.
“Jay had taken to philanthropy and was very helpful in connecting us to his wealthy friends in New York to help start I Create and guide the formation of the organization,” says Bhargava.
Misra, who has served on the I Create board since its inception, now lives in India and works at the Amrita School of Business, where he codirects the Amrita Center for Sustainable Future; serves as program manager of Amrita Center for International Programs; and teaches entrepreneurship and business strategy. He also works with Embracing the World, a humanitarian organization focused on developing and running social enterprises, including schools and hospitals.
It seems inevitable Bhargava would start an enterprise aimed at creating social change, having come from a family with a rich history of public service. His father founded the Commerce College in their home state of Rajasthan; his mother was a social activist who served in the Indian Parliament for 14 years.
Bhargava landed at HBS because he wanted to get his MBA “from the best place” and because his older brother, Bharat, had earned his from HBS in 1967. He graduated into a recession, taking a job with Tri-Chem, Inc. in Harrison, New Jersey.
“What I learned at HBS suddenly became very relevant, so much so that within five years I became vice president of international sales,” Bhargava observes. Today he and Aruna live in New Jersey. They have a grown son and daughter and two grandsons.
Since its launch in 1999, 67,000 Indians have completed one of I Create’s two programs at 12 centers across India, creating more than 3,000 entrepreneurs and 12,000 jobs.
The first program, Change the Mindset (CMS), works with students in secondary schools and colleges, introducing them to entrepreneurial skills and opening their minds to the possibility of going into business for themselves.
“We are working with selected schools to teach this program in an interactive learning manner, so it inspires the students and they are able to internalize the skills,” Bhargava explains.
Other schools have introduced entrepreneurship into their course offerings as an elective course, but he fears without interactive curricula, the well-meaning movement may backfire.
“Our fear is that if the schools teach entrepreneurship just as another typical subject, the kids rote learn to get high marks in the examination and that will do very little good to the long-term goal of sowing the seeds of entrepreneurship in the minds of youth and of job creation,” Bhargava says.
I Create’s other program, Creating Job Creators (CJC), works with disadvantaged women, unemployed youth, and recently discharged soldiers to provide a comprehensive training and mentoring program that includes help with accessing financing for entrepreneurial pursuits.
With one million people entering the workforce every month, according to the Indian Ministry of Labor, it is important to Bhargava to give people the skills and motivation needed to create their own jobs, rather than looking for jobs that aren’t there.
“The training methodology is such that it gives the trainees confidence, since they learn, among other things, to stand up in front of peers and seniors and speak, something they have never done,” he notes.
One success story is that of Jyotika Parmar, a woman from rural India who, Bhargava explains, did not have 50 Rupees (75 cents in today’s US dollars, about $1 at the time) for her monthly rent. Following her I Create training, and with 500 Rupees in capital in her pocket, Parmar started a small security agency in Vadodara that today employs 60 people and makes an annual profit of 2.4 million Rupees.
“She gives motivational talks and inspires women,” says Bhargava. “Her goal to create 30 more entrepreneurs like herself is on its way.”
Another alumnus, Abdus Samad, grew up in Rasulpur, a poor village in West Bengal. He quit school after eighth grade to work in his father’s grocery store to help support his family. He heard about the I Create program and signed up.
Having noticed a growth in agriculture in the region, Samad was intent on finding his niche in the industry. After conducting market research and consulting with a mentor, Samad began making jute bags that are used to store and sell seeds, submitted his business plan, and secured a startup loan from a local bank.
Samad’s older brother, Abdus Subur, also took the I Create training and started a seed farm. The brothers now own two seed farms––Kaveri Seeds and Kalyani Seed Farm––which have 100 million Rupees ($1.5 million) in sales annually.
“Two hundred families are employed and benefitting from his enterprise,” says Bhargava.
The best part of the program, says Bhargava, and what keeps him going, is the feedback from I Create alumni and their families.
“The participants have been extremely delighted in the program and how it has emboldened them to consider stating a business, which they could never have dreamed of,” he says, adding that I Create has been awarded the “best partner” award by NFTE two years in a row.
But the organization still faces challenges, including bureaucracy in the Indian government, as it attempts to reach more people through existing government infrastructure.
“Our goal has been to leverage the program through government organizations, given their vast resources and existing infrastructure to support our program,” says Bhargava. “We have had several discussions with the relevant government officers at the national and subnational levels and, while they show a lot of enthusiasm, the actual implementation has been slow.”
Despite this, I Create has set up a business incubation center in partnership with a division of the Federal Ministry of Entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, the unemployment situation in India remains dire, with 17.8 million of the nation’s 1.34 billion people unemployed, according to the United Nations International Labor Organization.
“Much work needs to be done,” observes Bhargava. “Otherwise, tens of millions of young Indians who have a dream for the new and emerging India will be disappointed and disheartened, and India will have lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage such a large, young potential workforce.”
Class of MBA 1977, Section E