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Social impact startups about tackling critical HR Challenges

Article from Hina Nainani CIIE @ IIM Ahmedabad

Ask any startup founder to rank their biggest challenges…inevitably human resources will make it to the list. Entrepreneurs around the globe are helping solve big problems like cashless travel & transportation, finding remedies for diseases, building CRM platforms for businesses and a lot more. But, there are a handful who have started ventures that address social challenges– poverty, sanitation, education energy access, healthcare and such other pressing concerns of the day.

So, this time around CIIE spoke to three such entrepreneurs whose enterprises, now on a highly flourishing and growing stage, want to build big businesses but with social impact! We had candid chats with…


  • Piyush Jaju, Co-founder and COO of ONergy Solar, a social enterprise providing end-to-end and customised solar solutions for underserved population.
  • Sujay Santra, Founder of iKure Techsoft that provides affordable and accessible primary care up to the last mile using technology innovations.
  • Neha Juneja, Co-founder and CEO of Greenway Grameen, which designs and distributes modern, efficient home energy devices tailored to rural consumers.

We spoke to them about their employee selection approach, retention strategies and how they have been able to overcome HR related challenges.


Getting The Right Fit!

Both Sujay and Piyush had similar responses. Since both companies have people from various domains; technology, medicine, field officers etc, when it comes to the right fit, field knowledge and high dedication toward the work they are doing is crucial. Sujay added, “They should be committed to the vision and mission we have set for ourselves. That is key.”

On the contrary, Neha said that just because they are a startup with a social impact objective, their HR process doesn’t really alter. They use regular channels like LinkedIn to hire. Plus there are no particular designations and job profiles within a social enterprise different from regular organisations.

Sources To Pool In Talent

All three entrepreneurs had identical answers. They said that they source talents via LinkedIn, job portals, newspaper ads, startup communities and references. For Piyush, DevNetJobs, a development focused job portal chiefly dedicated to NGOs, social enterprises etc. has been one of the crucial drivers for finding the right candidates.

Sujay further added that the iKure website gets over 2 lakh visits per month and most footfall comes from Indians based out of US and UK who want to be associated with iKure. This has proven to be one of the major sources for hiring. To this Piyush stated that for the several renewable energy centers located across rural areas, people working there are always selected from the neighborhood. Each year they have 4 to 6 interns of which 2 to 3 are non Indians.

Qualities They Look For In Prospective Hires

The entrepreneurs weren’t looking for candidates who are looking just at a fat paycheck. They look at applicants who are motivated, inclined to do good for the society and have a ‘panache’, the flamboyance with which they dedicate themselves toward the cause. Neha added, “With a cause like ours, they should be self driven and motivated. We look for people who are energetic and aggressive.”

Cost Of A Wrong Hire

Sujay said that for some specific positions, they conduct multiple rounds of interviews and several reference checks to ensure they hire the right candidate, to which Piyush added that the average cost of hiring a wrong candidate for them has been 2 to 3 months of the person’s salary. At ONergy, despite the exhaustive selection process, there have been plenty such instances which have gone askew.

Remuneration – Things To Keep In Mind & The Criticality Of The ESOP Component

In iKure and Greenway Grameen the remuneration structure is either fixed or based on a ESOP remuneration structure. At ONergy, industry standards are followed for low level to mid level profiles, for the sales team, they are remunerated based on incentives, performance and sales. Quarterly incentives are given based on performance (KRAs) and various pre—decided deliverables.

Motivation Behind Employee Retention

At iKure, working in the healthcare industry is a 24x7x365 service. They motivate their employees with the fact that they should take the onus of the work that they are doing and that they are able to change someone’s life. Piyush and Neha said that the most important aspect for maintaining retention is having a conducive atmosphere at work, communicating with employees on a regular basis, indulging in various fun activities and involving everyone.

Major Challenges – Availability Of Good Resources, Right Selection Or Retention?

For Sujay, the major challenge has been getting a good resource and communication through the varied geography. Since iKure services are spread across India, especially rural India, communicating with the diverse workforce to keep them abreast and ensure that they are on the right track is a challenge that they would like to overcome.

For Piyush and Neha, it has been retention and availability of good resources that have been the challenges.

Key Ingredients Of A Successful Recruitment Strategy

For Sujay and Piyush, it is a) getting hands on good resources and b) being able to negotiate on the remuneration package being offered. For the kind of services they provides, it is essential that the prospect is more oriented toward the overall mission and vision and not just inclined toward money. Neha ended her dialogue with a straightforward answer – founders should themselves get involved in finding the right match for job profiles.

Here are some takeaways :

  • Use LinkedIn and other job sites like Naukri to source the right talent for regular profiles.
  • Selecting local people from the neighbourhood for local jobs is valuable.
  • For social enterprises, look for people who are not looking just for money but are highly motivated and inclined to the work that the enterprise does.
  • Conduct multiple rounds of interviews and several reference checks to ensure you hire the right candidate.
  • Boost employee confidence with rewards and recognitions. Upholding a healthy startup culture is imperative.
  • One of the most important aspect for maintaining retention is to have a conducive atmosphere at work and communicating with employees on a regular basis.

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