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Deshpande's Sandbox to inspire social innovation hubs

Five business leaders set to take the concept forward to give entrepreneurs a better shot at success

Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, a famous Silicon Valley entrepreneur from Karnataka whose Sycamore Networks was the darling of the US stock markets, aims to replicate the success of his technology enterprise to the social innovation landscape in India.

Deshpande, who has developed a framework to promote social entrepreneurs, is set to expand his presence with the help of other noted business leaders. Five hubs based on that model will be built with the support of Raju Reddy (another well-known technology entrepreneur of Indian origin in the Silicon Valley), Rajender Singh of DLF Foundation, Sangita Reddy of Apollo Hospitals, Srinivasa Raju of Peepul Capital and Dilip Modi of Spice Telecom/Ek Soch Foundation.

Christened Sandbox, the model seeks to work with business people and community leaders to build a comprehensive programme to encourage entrepreneurs to move from ideas to actual businesses. Using broad-based marketing, along with the help of community partners, Sandbox looks to attract a broad cross section of entrepreneurs. Mentors, expert speakers and frequent gatherings will help the entrepreneurs accelerate their knowledge and give their ideas a better chance of success.

The hub champions (the five business leaders) will help launch a social innovation hub each in five locations across three states - Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Each hub will support numerous social businesses and NGOs by providing financial and capacity building resources with the aim of scaling each venture within the immediate proximity of the respective hub, and then leveraging the network to further its growth.

This move by Deshpande will be under the umbrella of Action For India (AFI), inspired and guided by Sam Pitroda, with the goal of helping social innovators in India overcome barriers to scale and achieve greater impact at the bottom of the pyramid, by connecting social innovators with impact investors, mentors, technology resources, government contacts and local partners.

Bottom of the pyramid refers to the poorest socio-economic group.

Sandbox facilitates a critical mass of activity to spur innovations through insights and learnings from social enterprises in the Silicon Valley. In a related move, AFI has embarked on an ambitious mission of "20 by 2020", which will see the development of 20 social innovation hubs by 2020.

Deshpande, advisor to US President Barack Obama and founder of Deshpande Foundation, said, "If we are able to combine the execution excellence of for-profit organisations with the compassion of not-for-profit organisations, we can do magic.

India needs to come up with solutions that are cost-effective and scalable. We can achieve this by setting benchmarks to raise the aspirations of social entrepreneurs and collaborate with the government, private sector and financial institutions. The AFI forum is an excellent platform to bring all these parties together. Connections are made. People pursue those connections to do what they want to do, and AFI helps facilitate that."

As part of the move this year, a select group of young Indian social innovators will travel to the Silicon Valley to interact with venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs at premier business accelerators, including StartX at Stanford University, SkyDeck Labs at University of California, Berkeley, and the TiE Launchpad. These entrepreneurs will be announced as AFI Silicon Valley Fellows after a selective competition.

During last year, AFI launched a chapter in California which serves as an outpost for Indian business talent abroad and includes talented academics, technology leaders and business executives united in their efforts to pool resources to accelerate leading social ventures in India.

The primary purpose of this international expansion is to mobilise angel impact investments from the Silicon Valley to fund social innovations in India.

AFI is courting additional philanthropists, corporate sponsors, impact investors and foundations to help create actionable social interventions through market-based solutions. "Action For India's goal is to address the stark realities of nearly 10 million young people entering into the Indian workforce each year through the creation of ventures that seek to solve some of the nation's most pressing challenges around livelihoods, health and education," AFI said in a statement.

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