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January 03, 2017

How Today’s Entrepreneurs Are Thinking About The Greater Good

Text by Huzan Tata

They’re armed with degrees from international colleges, but white-collar jobs aren’t what they’re after….

Early last year, youth icon and style maven Emma Watson wore a Behno coat to an event, and talk of this garment soon broke the internet. She has Shivam Punjya to thank for that. The New York-based 28-year-old, who founded the ethically conscious fashion house in 2013, did so after news of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh shook him up. But it’s not just him — today’s professionals whether having grown up abroad or educated on foreign shores, are choosing to channel their energies and talents towards a social cause, rather than take up lucrative jobs that their degrees train them for. Is this trend just the flavour of the season, or is social entrepreneurship here to stay?

With the advent of technology, the world is but a global village, and hearing about new ideas, movements and causes across streams encourages people to boldly venture forth and achieve their own grand plans. Today’s generation not only believes in talking, but doing as well — and contributing to social causes is an important part of their lives. “As I was exploring the textiles industry during my research on women’s health in India, I gained insight into the larger picture and into the global perception of ‘made in India’, which was either negatively received or quickly dismissed…I was appalled. I wanted to challenge this with a strong design sensibility and explore ethical manufacturing to address some of the largest issues circling the garment industry,” explains Punjya, on the foundation of his company.

Such chance discoveries have sown the seeds of entrepreneurship for many a young founder; coupled with a passion for implementing change. While New Yorker Sana Rezwan’s Indelust — that stocks brands that espouse ethical fashion and sustainable living for workers — is a step forward in the fashion arena, other fields aren’t far behind. From 24-year-old Sharad Sagar — featured on Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Next Century Innovators’ list — whose Dexterity Global provides educational opportunities to students in remote areas, to Londoner Priya Prakash’s Design for Social Change that develops technologies for the benefit of local communities, entrepreneurs are choosing to make their mark in fields that not only bring them success but impact the world positively as well.

Says London-based Anab Jain, whose Superflux creates solutions that are ‘responsive to the challenges of the 21st century’, “social consciousness is as important as breathing. From climate change to political unrest and unprecedented technological acceleration, we are living in precarious times. Without a sense of awareness it is going to be difficult to not just make sense of such rapid change but to thrive in it.” The Ahmedabad-born designer, who started her organisation with technologist Jon Ardern, has worked on creating civilian drones and optogenetic prosthetic vision that helps the visually challenged, among other porjects. “Currently we are building tools and methods that can enable individuals to mitigate the shock of food insecurity and climate change,” she explains.

While these minds tread the path of socially and ethically conscious creation, the road ahead can’t be easy. “We know that social change isn’t an overnight process. It can take years to really see change in action. We work closely with all our factories and try to understand where they are in their trajectories and where they want to go. We’re excited to provide a platform to display craft done with a socially conscious mind,” says Punjya.

Though faced with difficulties at every stage, these entrepreneurs take every challenge in their stride and are driven to make an impact — the world taking notice is only an added bonus. “It’s not about standing out or being different. It’s about making change happen. I have tremendous respect for all organisations and individuals who are pushing for social change each day,” adds Sagar, whose endeavour aims to reach out to 200 million students in the next few years. Surely, these noble minds have much to teach those who’d want to start off on their own. “Look for issues and causes that mean something to you. Then jump into learning more and addressing them. In your day-to-day life, always look for the backstory. It allows us to act consciously in various areas of our lives,” advises Punjya. As Sagar concludes, “In today’s global world, we have an added layer of responsibility…our actions contribute to building its values and practices.” Working for your own benefit, but also for the greater good of society and the world, seems to be the new-age professional’s mantra. And we hope this idea, like everything Emma Watson wears, will soon break the internet.

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