A few weeks ago, I had a breakfast meeting with Rashmi Putcha, who has been a dear friend for several years since we first met at an INSEAD program.
Rashmi has recently founded a new enterprise known as Inaari – and listening to her was extremely fascinating and deeply insightful, as she spoke of how the pandemic and its consequent lockdown had brought in deep introspection and soul searching of what she wished to accomplish, after having successfully co-created several business ventures. Isolation, during the pandemic, had a silver lining for her – it led to a wonderful and innovative idea of educating and enabling girls and women make sense of, value, and integrate, as well as cope with the challenges of menstruation and its impact on the woman’s psyche.
The innovation lay on multiple fronts:
A) Leveraging a ‘platform model’ to extend its reach and its impact across India – a platform that had the potential of building a wider community beyond the confines of family and close friends – a sense of universal ‘sisterhood’ together
B) In dignifying and attenuating shame and ambivalence around menstruation with an intent to celebrate this integral part of a woman’s life
C) In integrating a body identity and physiological processes with psychological well being, of social identity, and being a woman.
D) In creating communities of women from teenagers to post-menopausal women that can invest into dialogue on many associated themes such as food, yoga, well-being; but in addition to dialogue, explore expression and conversations of intense feelings.
E) Rashmi has just launched the website – resplendent with great colours, aesthetically done drawings and sketches, and graphics – you must visit http://www.inaari.org – along with interesting content in the form of narratives, intimate sharing, research references et al.
As a man, I must confess that my awareness of menstruation was ‘restricted’ to so called scientific text complemented with a drawing in my high school biology text book about periods, and this abysmal ignorance continued right till marriage; perhaps my mother and later women friends unconsciously adhered to the principle of not talking about it and not burdening the men with what women endure and engage with for a significant part of their lives.
Yep – for all my sensitivity and curiosity, I displayed utter ignorance, shades of patriarchy, and insensitivity…played utter ignorance, shades of patriarchy, and insensitivity…
Social Entrepreneurism: New age organising
Conversations with Rashmi highlighted if not underlined the evolution of new-age thinking around organisations, organization design, and the battle against an overwhelming spirit & ideology of capitalism. I had referred to social entrepreneurism and hybrids in an earlier blog, but this encounter with Rashmi had that ‘a-ha’ experience for me as a researcher on the following fronts:
1. Inaari is a social enterprise – I must mention that Rashmi has been a serial entrepreneur in the past and quite successful too – having integrated technology and analytics with service in the past. But Inaari was different – she was no longer the opportunistic, risk-taking, aggressive conquistador (all masculine traits associated with traditional entrepreneurism) but appeared to be more rooted, resonating, and in rhythm of who she is today. Her friends would know the tumultuous journeys that she has made in her life journey.
2. Secondly, this was not going to be a ‘unicorn’ or a money making machine – Rashmi was clear that this was indeed a hybrid social enterprise – a large majority of the offerings were free for the sisterhood / community of women, and the monetising of select services around coaching and mentoring was to create a revenue model that could sustain the firm and offer normal returns.
3. Thirdly, the social enterprise would leverage technology and network structures that would bring people together on a platform , and yet endorse a democratisation through the platform model allowing for both utilitarian services as well as expression and sharing within communities.
4. Lastly, all people – friends and strangers, seemed to genuinely offer intellectual and social capital for Inaari to succeed – from technology resources to funding choices to organization design. Voluntary networks bridging geographies and communities was leaving Rashmi humbled but also fortunate, responsible, and affirmed.
In my next blog, I would be talking about another social entrepreneur – Bratati Ghosh and her founding of Turn The Bus (www.turnthebus.org) that mirrors Inaari on all these fronts, especially voluntarism, to begin with and some more insights.
Sustaining the hybrid: Waging a battle against the Ideology of Capitalism
I would like to draw your attention to the hegemony of capitalism and how this paradigm engulfs and overwhelms any new form of economic and social activity. The hegemony manifests in academic research too when it comes to looking at new ways of organising and creating value. The hegemony comes alive in the following ways:
A) The traditional competitive private and for-profit firm has always been deemed as more effective and efficient than other firms including social enterprises or hybrids. By effectiveness and efficiency , I refer to scaling up (mass production), GTM strategies, product standardisation, and rational organization of work.
It is this language of efficiency and effectiveness that can corrode the soul of the enterprise as management thinking substitutes ownership and dialogue. I was delighted that Rashmi was not getting seduced by demands of this paradigm.
B) Capitalism demands that the craftspersons lose their ownership of the fruits of labor by becoming wage earners, and justifying this abdication by holding onto a dream / fantasy of becoming ‘free’ of traditional oppression as well as experiencing stability – many social scientists term this as absurd.
I believe that the platform models have lots more to offer than just utilitarian gigs … conversations with friends that have designed gig works as spaces for contracting and constructing new contracts of work leave me with hope. I would invite readers to visit http://www.GigVistas.com that seeks to empower women and individual craftspersons – a firm established and seeded by my batchmates – Anilesh, Selva, Hasan and others from ISB.
C) Capitalism over the past two centuries has justified the legitimacy of a traditional ‘wrong’- that of lucre / greed / selfishness would lead to greater well-being – consumerism would lead us there.
It is this ideology that social entrepreneurs are continually at war with … the myth that lucre or greed can create stable and competitive markets and would lead to common good is showing cracks across societies in the world. The divide between the rich and the poor has become quite obscene.
And this statement comes in the light of two billionaires making sorties to ionosphere at the expense of the impoverished consumer of their products and services
Thus, in many ways, social entrepreneurs such as Rashmi are seeding, designing and demonstrating a new form of organising – enterprises that question traditional forms and objectives of for-profit organisations.
As a researcher, I am particularly excited with how these social entrepreneurs grapple with the organising and execution of their dreams – from choosing between social impact and financial profitability, from choosing between individualistic go-getters and the romantic altruists and finally from choosing depth versus scale..
But one thing that I am quite certain of is that the social enterprise has and can be more balanced a container that integrates masculinity of structure and action and feminine forces of intuition, humanism, and wonder.
It is also not a coincidence that many of the founders as well as academicians who are writing on social enterprises are women!!