This is the second part of our conversation with Ashoka Fellow Hasina Kharbhih. In part one, we talked about her thought process behind developing the internationally recognized Impulse Model for ending human trafficking. For this post, we focus on the qualities of a social enterpreneur.
There’s a lot of interest in social entrepreneurship these days. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a social entrepreneur?
HK: Social entrepreneurship has to have social outcomes. It is not about selling products or creating something new for the sake of creating something new. It’s not about ‘I made this and I’m doing it on my own.’ That might be entrepreneurship, but not social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurship has a lot to do with human beings. Growth is not measured by the volume of profits, but in the change brought to the system or community values. That is something very important that anyone who decides to become a social entrepreneur needs to understand and define very clearly.
For example, take the Impulse Empower Brand. The Empower Brand was made to support the local artisans in Northeast India. The product generates an income to the community, which improves their livelihood and is preventing unsafe migration. The profit is reinvested back into the community. That can be defined as social entrepreneurship because the value system is more social in its nature.
Social entrepreneurship has a lot to do with human beings. Growth is not measured by the volume of profits, but in the change brought to the system or community values.
Let’s talk about the Impulse Empower Brand, the social enterprise you and your team created. How did you decide on a textile business?
HK: The basic impetus remains the five Ps and the five Rs of the Impulse Model. The implementation of the five Ps and five Rs over the last 15 years was very much in accordance with the long-term prevention of trafficking. Our thought process was, along with rescue operations, along with rehabilitation, along with reintegration and repatriation, what will actually stop people from migrating?
The larger answer to all that was economic development. From the mapping exercise that we did, we found that the traditional skills in the area where we were working was in textiles. Introducing a new skillset would have meant going through a number of years before the local communities could acquire that skill. We also had to ask, if a new skill were introduced, would that new skill actually help to facilitate any kind of opportunity?
We realized that textile weaving was one major traditional skill inherited among the communities in the region. It comes naturally to them. It is part and parcel of what they learn from their mothers and grandmothers. It is not something that they have to learn from someone outside. Every household has a weaving loom. They were already either weaving for themselves or weaving for their own communities.
That sounds like a good starting point.
HK: That was an asset of the community that we had to tap. How can textile weaving become a form of economic development for rural communities who have inherited that kind of skill from childhood? How can we add value? How will the value addition actually bring forward something very positive and very sustainable?
That’s how Impulse Social Enterprises came into existence. We had already been working on economic development for the last 15 years, but we were working from the nonprofit perspective back then. Economic development from a nonprofit is very difficult to scale. The legalities of nonprofits getting into economic development in India are also very complex. So we created Impulse Social Enterprises to tackle economic development and poverty alleviation. We provide support systems and marketing linkages to textile weavers so they don’t have to move out of rural communities.
The interesting part is that the women we work with are not laborers; they are entrepreneurs. They’re weaving from their own home, so they’re not being uprooted. It does not bring any kind of community conflict among them and their families. They continue to do the household work — cooking, sending the children to school, taking care of agriculture duties — but they also have textile weaving, which is already part and parcel of daily life, as an income generating activity.
The interesting part is that the women we work with are not laborers; they are entrepreneurs. They’re weaving from their own home, so they’re not being uprooted. It does not bring any kind of community conflict among them and their families.
What kind of support systems do you provide?
HK: The support system is in the centralization of raw materials that we provide and quality control of the products. We also give design input so what they create is not looked at as some kind of charity, but a fashionable item. We try to retain the traditional design though, because it provides an identity for the artisans. That identity is empowerment in and of itself because it is reflective of who they are and where they come. Adding all these components into one allows economic development programs, which strengthen the long-term prevention of trafficking.
You’ve done a lot of great things and received so many distinctions, like the Global Development Network’s 2nd Most Innovative Development Model and India’s first Mastrapreneur. Did becoming an Ashoka Fellow change things for you?
HK: My journey as an Ashoka Fellow has been very meaningful. It has actually brought me to understand the core value of my ideas. It has helped me scale my original idea from what it was in 2006 till now. The Ashoka recognition also came at a point when nobody was really trying to understand my ideas at all. But Ashoka understood the innovation I was creating very closely.
I think that as a social entrepreneur, Ashoka’s guidance gives me the ability to make the innovation a reality today. I think it’s very natural for a lot of social entrepreneurs to be always looking for solutions,and if solutions are not there readily, we will go beyond what’s apparent to see a how solution can be developed. If there is a problem there has to be a solution.
Now that she’s given us her thoughts on being a social entrepreneur, Hasina will talk about being a woman working in anti-trafficking and her source of inspiration in the final post. Stay tuned!
Cover Image: Impulse Empower Brand