006 No Ordinary Business with ENVenture & ENVision mobile

1.3 billion people lack access to electricity.  Close to 1 billion are drinking unsanitary water.  4 million people, mostly women and children, die annually from indoor air pollution due to burning wood and charcoal for cooking. Today’s conversation with Aneri Pradhan, of  ENVenture and her newest social enterprise, ENVision mobileis here to share with us how her organisation is working to accelerate rural cooperatives to start clean energy ventures and how ENVision is transforming microentrepreneurship through its offline booking app designed for small merchants and street vendors.

 

Gina: Today's guest on No Ordinary Business is Aneri Pradhanthe Founder and Executive Director of ENVenture and co-founder of ENVision mobile. Aneri, welcome to No Ordinary Business!  

 

Aneri: Thank you for having me.
 

Gina: Before we get into your work with ENVenture and ENVision, I’d like it if you would share with us your own background and how you got to where you are today?

 

Aneri: Sure, I studied international development and after graduating I wanted to not only ‘talk the talk’ but also ‘walk the walk’. I spent a couple of years in developing countries, in Bangladesh, India, and Uganda working on different types of clean energy projects with small businesses. From there I joined the United Nations Foundation for three years, and then with Facebook for two years within its emerging markets innovation team. Throughout this journey, I still felt attached to the small businesses I worked with and didn’t find that any of the solutions in international organisations or in Silicon Valley were really helping at that level. That is why I decided to form ENVenture and then worked on the ENVision tech to start solving some of the problems I encountered small businesses facing.

 

Gina: Describe the social problem that inspired ENVenture.

 

Aneri:  There are about 1.2 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean energy and about 2 billion people worldwide without access to power for cooking.  Because of that, the issue became one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. SDG goal number 7 is about creating access to affordable and clean energy.  It is a huge problem in sub-Saharan African as well as in South Asia.

 

Gina: What was it specifically that you felt was missing from traditional philanthropy or in Silicon Valley that inspired the creation of ENVenture?

 

Aneri: It’s all very top down: philanthropy, policy, and corporations.  The way they operate and support people in developing countries, very often it doesn’t involve consultation, participation, and community feedback, nor are they focused on building inclusive ecosystems. None of it is grassroots and I feel that truly the transformative power lies is in the grassroots movements.  The bottom-up approach is missing and advocating for it within these institutions is really challenging.  

So I thought that the quickest way to create impact at that level was to form ENVenture to support people from the bottom up versus continuing to work for these large organisations.  I am not saying that these are not good organisations, they obviously are, but they have a different mindset and approach to tackling some of these problems that remain systemic and have no silver bullet solutions.

 

Gina: There’s this ongoing debate about whether a top down or bottom up approach creates more sustainability.  I certainly believe you need end-beneficiary stakeholders buy-in in order to achieve sustainable impact.  Both have their positive attributes, I suppose we require both.
 

Aneri: Exactly.

 

Gina: So, tell us about ENVenture and what specifically inspired you to create it?

 

Aneri:  ENVenture is an incubator and we provide financing and training to rural grassroots organisations that are either formed as cooperatives or community-based organisations to sell clean energy.  This is a massive problem in Uganda where more than 85% of the population lacks access to electricity.  There are a lot of people on the ground that want to promote clean energy solutions but they don’t have the technical expertise and they don’t have the business acumen to do it effectively.  We provide them with a start-up loan and training to be able to sell effectively where they are.  We’ve been doing this for about four years and over that period we’ve invested in 70 grassroots organisations.  They have provided clean energy access to close to 50,000 people. 

 

Gina: I understand that the problem you are tackling is access to clean energy in Uganda and that this is a huge problem across sub-Saharan Africa and around much of the developing world.  What I hear you saying is that there are a number of social enterprises on the ground that are working to provide solutions to the challenge of lack of access to electricity and clean energy for lighting, cooking, etcetera.  So you are giving them financing and also supplying them with the cleantech products?

 

Aneri: We provide them with linkages to suppliers that have high-quality products.  One of the problems in Uganda is that there are a lot of counterfeit energy products that promise that they are solar or that they are clean cookstoves and they actually aren’t.   They haven’t been tested and approved.  People may be drawn to them because they tend to be cheaper.  But they are distorting the market.  So we are creating a supply chain for high-quality clean energy products to these local businesses that are borrowing from us.

 

Gina: How are you identifying the community organisations that you’re supporting?  

 

Aneri:  They seek us out.  In Uganda, there are over 10,000 registered community-based organisations and it is typically a type of cooperative that focuses on community improvement.  There are different types of cooperatives and they are typically started by community civil society leaders and are intensely focused on improving their local communities. They work with building and helping schools, they often offer subsidised health care, and they want to offer clean energy solutions.   They have traction in the community, respect, good relationships with local leaders and village chiefs, and because of their local legitimacy that makes it a lot easier for them to sell clean energy solutions because they already have buy-in and trust from the community consumers.   

 

Gina: And you engage solely in debt financing?

 

Aneri: Yes.  There is a big starvation for affordable debt in Uganda, especially for small businesses.  Most banks are reluctant to give less than $50,000 in loans to small businesses and if they do the loans are at extremely high interest rates, at 30-40% per annum. Microfinancing is really small and typically utilised for personal lending, not commercial funding.  So you have this massive gap because there are all these micro-enterprises across Uganda, and they all have a huge challenge accessing any kind of financing to help support these businesses to grow. It is typically bootstrapped coming from people’s own savings or community to get started.  Many are cash flow negative because they don’t have the requisite skills and they utilise their day-to-day earnings just to get by. So there is this massive gap in available financing and that is what our loans are structured to address.

 

Gina: Can you share some more detail about your loan profile?

 

Aneri: Our loans are US$2000, but we also break that up because we want to see performance match growth so we make an initial US$500 inventory loan and the enterprise will buy stock from our suppliers, sell the product and use the margin to pay back ENVenture.  Then we will issue them a US$500 cash loan and see what they do with the cash to grow the business or if they make unwise decisions.  If they are successful in acquiring and selling more stock, then at that point we will loan them US$1000 cash loan for growing their business.

As our next phase, which we are currently raising funds for, is a Growth Fund programme where these organisations who have been successful in managing and repaying the initial loan, who are making sales, who are profitable but need more working capital to grow. This could fund vehicles to distribute products, and/or an IT management system, there are many different kinds of asks but this Growth Fund is designed to provide anywhere from US$1,000-$10,000.  Because these organisations have already been vetted through our initial process we feel comfortable taking that risk.

 

Gina: So the enterprises need to go through your start-up loan fund in order to qualify for your Growth Fund?

 

Aneri:  Yes.

 

Gina: What is the term of your start-up loans?

 

Aneri:  The US$2,000 is loaned and repaid over one year.  The US$500 instalments are each repaid within three months and the US$1000 over six months. Our interest rates range between 10-16% per annum, which is much cheaper than current market rates.  It is set at this rate so that they get comfortable with paying back interest and to prepare them for market rates to a bank or other commercial lenders once they are investment ready.

 

Gina: What are the standard interest rates for commercial loans in Uganda and for microfinance?

 

Aneri: Banks typically charge anywhere between 25-30% interest per annum.  MFIs (microfinance institutions) are more; usually, they charge 35-40% interest per annum.

 

Gina: I’ve always been surprised how high the MFI rates are so high.  Do you have any insight as to whether the risk justifies the higher rates?

 

Aneri:  I am not sure that MFI interest rates are so high in Asia, where most of the success is. I know that they are in Uganda. It is such a risky loan because most are using it as personal loans and not for business so it is harder to expect any return.  For example, many times someone will get a micro-finance loan to cover school fees. That’s great, but economically they may not have the means to repay the debt.

 

Gina: Are you applying similar terms to your Growth Fund? 

 

Aneri:  It will be cheaper than market rates but more expensive than our existing rates.  We are thinking somewhere between 20-25%.

 

Gina:  When are you launching the Growth Fund?

 

Aneri:  When we fundraise for it!  We have some proposals out right now.

 

Gina:  That leads me to want to ask what your sources of funding are?  

 

Aneri:  We received our first tranche of funding from Unilever. They have a programme called Transform and were looking for innovative ‘last-mile’ distribution organisations.  We won a grant from them in 2016 and set aside US$100,000 of that grant dedicated to making loans to the cooperatives.  We made 50 loans last year at US$2,000 each and now are getting repayments back, about 10 so far have completed their loans and the majority will complete this fall. It is a revolving loan so we lend it back out once it is repaid.

 

Gina: What’s the experience been like so far?

 

Aneri:  One of the adjustments we made was to move away from providing the full US$2,000 upfront to paying it in tranches.  Some of the borrowers managed the full US$2,000 cash loan well and used it to purchase stock and created a successful business as a result.  However, others used it to pay off other debts and focus on something that was not clean energy related.  While they paid us back it wasn’t aligned with our mission of creating access to clean energy.  So we had to revise our procedure and attach targets to each tranche provided so that we can streamline credit history and feel more confident about lending onwards. That was one of our big takeaways.

 

Gina:  How do you measure impact with each US$2,000 loan?

 

Aneri:  It depends on the type of clean energy product procured.  Cookstoves or solar lights are usually around the US$10 range so you can purchase many units with our loan.  But some solar home systems can cost US$300. It depends on the entrepreneur. We don’t dictate what products they should take they know their customers and their markets.  The majority of them are selling cook stoves so that gets them at least 200 units.

 

Gina:  Why did you start with Uganda?

 

Aneri:  I lived there in 2011 and was working in carbon financing when that market was strong. Many of the manufacturers in Kampala were trying to leverage the carbon markets to grow their businesses and a lot of them were international companies. I felt frustrated because there was this huge market full of opportunity, a lot of Ugandans were excited about it and trying to get involved because they saw it as a lucrative opportunity and yet there were so few opportunities for them to do something in the carbon market space. I was meeting all these grassroots leaders who approached me asking how to get access to this inventory. They wanted to sell these products to their communities but they didn’t have the funds to purchase at volume.  That was a disappointing problem for me because looking around, I couldn’t find any way to get them access to the necessary financing.  The manufacturers don’t want to sell on consignment with an entrepreneur they don’t know because it is a huge risk.  On the distribution side, without volume, they cannot effectively educate the people in their communities about these technologies.  That was the inspiration for ENVenture

 

Gina:   Can you share with us some examples of some of the enterprises you currently have in your portfolio, how they’re providing clean energy solutions to their communities?

 

Aneri: Absolutely!  There are so many that I really love.  I’ll talk about NEW Foundation, which was started by a woman named Juliet Gibbs; she’s from East Uganda and had an impressive resume.  She worked with a few prolific non-profit organisations in Kampala, she earned her Masters degree in Europe, she had significant education and knowledge but even someone like her had difficulty in accessing traditional financing.  Through NEW Foundation, she helped form 120 village loan and savings associations, which are basically groups of women that save together and apply for loans together.  These are an effective marketing channel for clean energy technologies because people can save up to purchase those types of technologies.  So when Juliette approached us to work with ENVenture to sell clean energy products to her community, it was a no-brainer. Through that experience, she’s been an impressive entrepreneur and from there she got funding from an international lender called Sendea, who provide solar loans. She utilised her US$2000 loan from us to get a US$30,000 loan from Sendea and now they’re doing daily solar home installations selling stoves at a rate of about 3 times what our other portfolio companies are doing.  That’s been really impressive.

There’s another example of a civil society leader, Mukasa from Iganga, Uganda an NGO community-based initiative called Initiative Uganda.  Their mission is to empower women, a lot of education and awareness, and distribute menstruation products.  As an NGO leader, this individual didn’t have a business background.  Before he would create a proposal for donations. After receiving training from us, he was so inspired that he looked through every project that his organisation was engaged in and evaluated how he could make money from those projects rather than running them as philanthropic ventures. 

So, he used our training and the framework from it to change his projects into mini social enterprises. For clean energy, he had strategic partnerships with different retailers like hardware shops around town and provided them commission to sell the clean energy products.  Through that mechanism, he’s been able to sell hundreds of products, which is really impressive.  He doesn’t have a storefront or even a sales team, just relationships with these different stores. Because of his woman’s empowerment initiative while they were previously donating their menstruation products, now he sells them for a small amount of money but uses those proceeds to pay the tailors to make the pads and created a successful business from that.  They received funding to scale that up from another foundation and are now a sustainable business.

Just seeing that type of transformation to a business mindset for me has been the most exciting because it is even more transformational than just clean energy.  Changing how people think about their livelihoods and can increase their income.

 

Gina:  I think that is a really great example of empowerment!

Now you have 70 borrowers, and you’ve just described two examples of different types of organisations; can you share a bit more detail about how they are set up and their business models?
 

Aneri: They are all different.  In Uganda, they have a legal structure category called a company limited by guarantee, which is typically what many Ugandan social enterprise organisations register as.  If you want to register as a true non-profit, then there are restrictions on how you earn profit, it’s extremely bureaucratic, and is subject to intense government scrutiny.  A lot of these organisations don’t have the legal support to meet these standards so most of them elect to be companies limited by guarantee.  They don’t pay taxes because they are not making profit but it allows them to conduct trade so that if they do make a profit they don’t have the same restrictions as a true non-profit and can engage in both for-profit and not-for-profit activities.  

 

Gina: Yes, I’m familiar with companies limited by guarantee from the UK and Bermuda, and like that it facilitates sustainability for the organisation by permitting engagement in trade.  That’s important.

 

Aneri: Exactly.  

 

Gina: What is your own plan for achieving sustainability for ENVenture?

 

Aneri: What’s challenging for us is that capacity building is baked into our model.  It is hard to make capacity-building sustainable, which is why it is typically a role performed by non-profits.  But we have earned revenue streams to try and cover some of our overhead costs.  One of which is the interest earned from our loans. The second is data collection and market research that we are conducting with our local community partners and our plan is to start selling that data and research.  

Lastly, we developed a tech platform called ENVision mobile.  One of the problems we saw as a lending organisation is getting business performance data on these small businesses.  They’re not used electronic data keeping, are not diligent, so when we need data to support our fundraising they are unable to share that with us and that impacts us adversely.  I started looking for a tool that is easy to use that these businesses can use to track their sales and collect the data we need but I couldn’t find anything.  We had the option to conduct an in-person field study which is costly and time-consuming.  Since we couldn’t find the technology that would work offline (most of the entrepreneurs we work with are in places without access to the internet), we needed something super simple to use without requiring a ton of training.  

So, we created the ENVision mobile app to collect data for the ENVenture platform and our enterprises use the app to track inventory, sales and start getting insights for their profit loss and financial performance.  

 

Gina:  As I understand it, you wanted to fill an existing gap to collect data and to create a platform that would help the users to track their sales, inventory, and finances generally that was easy to use? Since this solution wasn’t available in the market you ended up creating the ENVision mobile app to satisfy those needs, is that a fair representation?

 

Aneri: That’s right. It’s a smartphone app available on Android.  We had to create it this way because the information that users would have to collect would be too onerous if they had to send it via mobile text or USSD.

We rolled out the app and our borrowers are starting to use that and we are beginning to collect data.  With the Vodafone grant, we are now…

 

Gina: Sorry to interrupt, but I want to wish you congratulations on winning the Vodafone award!

 

Aneri: Thank you!  With that award, we were able to build out our dashboard platform. We believe that this innovation is something that a lot of organisations will want to use including MFIs or anyone that works with micro-enterprises, a social enterprise like ENVenture, a distribution company, all have difficulty in getting information.  We believe this is a real commercial opportunity and a part of the revenue we gain from that we believe will cover much of ENVenture’s costs in the long term.

 

Gina: Who would be interested in purchasing the market research that you’re collecting? 

 

Aneri: Universities, trade organisations, some of the product manufacturers who are not working in the areas.    

 

Gina: Has this kind of data not been collected before or has it just been done inefficiently?

 

Aneri: Most companies will do their own market research and collect data, but because we are in 70 communities, we have geographically disbursed data.  This is valuable to identify where there are opportunities for sales in different populations.  

 

Gina: You also anticipate revenue from sales associated with the app?

 

Aneri: Not from the app itself but from our enterprise software dashboard that we are creating.  Once a user is using the app we get that data on the back end and can see what they are selling and expenses and profit-loss for ourselves.  If we are providing these apps to another organisation that wants that data, they would want it presented in a clear format so we’re creating a customisable dashboard so another organisation can pull data they are interested in like sales figures, quantity sold, types of products being sold so that they can understand their own impact.

 

Gina: The ENVision app strikes me as having real potential for scalability!

 

Aneri: Absolutely, the goal is to pull out the mobile app into a for-profit company called ENVision mobile that’s been incubated by ENVenture and will focus on a global market.

 

Gina: So part of the profits from ENVision mobile will go towards supporting ENVenture?

 

Aneri: Absolutely.  

 

GinaENVision is so much broader than your own use case. What I am hearing is that you have two different streams of alternative revenue generation that are happening at this time.  First, you have the original incubator programme through ENVenture and then you have ENVision mobile.  How are you navigating the vision for both of these organisations that are relatively independent?

 

Aneri:  I have two co-founders for ENVision mobile that are not a part of ENVenture.  They’re interested in ENVision mobile and we are working part-time on that.  I’m still dedicated to ENVenture, but at some point, we will figure out the transition to spin out ENVision into a for-profit entity. ENVenture was the reason to create ENVision mobile so we will continue to support it from profits from ENVision.  

 

Gina: And you have other forms of revenue coming into ENVenture through interest and grants.  Where are you piloting ENVision?  

 

Aneri: We started in Uganda. India came up as an option given its market size but our relationships are strongest in Uganda so that is where we are going to start, but we are not limited to that market. I already have people emailing me from Nigeria and Cambodia inquiring about ENVision

 

Gina: What’s the timeline for the pilot and when are you officially launching the product?

 

Aneri: We are aiming for a launch date early next year and are currently building out the platform.  We have a couple strategic partners who will test the software before we release it commercially to make sure it’s working well and from there we will figure out where we’ll launch it.

 

Gina: What other technologies are social enterprises using?

 

Aneri: Most organisations are doing it themselves and build out their own IT data management tool customised for their own needs but aren’t looking beyond that.  They’ll work with Salesforce to manage their own data and pay lots of money upfront for this solution. I saw a market opportunity, especially for early-stage companies and wanted to take advantage of that.

 

Gina:  Can you share with us some of the barriers to entry or challenges you’ve faced in launching ENVenture?

 

Aneri: Our repayment rates are good but the timing of repayment has been a challenge.  There are a lot of delayed payments for a few reasons.  First, customers may not have harvested yet so sales will be low and it’s more difficult for them to pay us back.  We understand that.   We do charge penalties but they are quite low compared with the commercial lending rates.  The other thing is that we are not a bank and they know that we can’t really do anything about the delay.  What we try to reinforce is that delays mean that you cannot fully leverage all of the economic opportunities that we can offer by connecting and recommending you for other programmes if you don’t repay us on time.  

For instance, we have a partnership with the McGinnity Family Foundation and they have supported us in the past.  They give small grants and are interested in directly funding some of our community-based organisations based on our recommendations.  It’s these types of hooks that we find really work to motivate our borrowers to repay on time.  

We also have a WhatsApp group that everyone is a part of and we use that to announce every time a loan has been repaid.  We make a lot of noise and give congratulations and that motivates people to want to pay back.  

 

Gina: Do you have staff on the ground?

 

Aneri: Yes, we have 8 field agents based in the regions where we are active.  We also have 4 people in Kampala that work in our headquarters.

 

Gina:  These are all locals?

 

Aneri: Yes, all locals.

 

Gina:  That’s wonderful!  

What is your repayment rate so far?

 

Aneri: It’s high, at 96% but about half of that is not paid back on time.  

 

Gina: How does the delay impact you? I assume that it lowers the funds available to loan other enterprises.

 

Aneri: Exactly, and that’s what we tell them. 

 

Gina: And the penalties and interest isn’t a motivator for repayment?

 

Aneri: We tried the carrot and stick approach and offered to reduce interest rates by 0.5% if the borrowers repay on time and simultaneously to increase them by 0.5% if they are delayed.  But we didn’t really see that this made a difference.

It’s a priority thing.  It’s not that they’re not going to repay.  The ENVenture programme may not be a top priority unless they feel that they are missing out on other opportunities. 

I believe the most effective motivator is the knowledge that other enterprises were getting access to loans if the borrowers repaid on time and denying access to leverage our other opportunities.

 

Gina: What are the risks for ENVenture other than repayment?

 

Aneri:  I would say it’s pretty much just repayment. Also, when sales are low it’s typically because the organisation didn’t prioritise ENVenture, not that the need went down.   We’ve also tried to streamline our due diligence more too. We are looking at diagnosing why some perform better than others and it comes down to the grassroots leader is passionate about this work and their entrepreneurial skills.   If they are, we see high sales. It’s a direct correlation every time. 

In the future, we want to introduce psychometric testing for each of the executive directors of these community organisations.

 

Gina: You want to identify those who can hustle!

 

Aneri: Yes, test the hustle gene!

 

Gina:  I am sure you have a waiting list of loan applicants.    How deep do you go with the due diligence?

 

Aneri: First there’s an application form and based on that, one of our team members will have a call and we’ll have what’s essentially like a job interview.  Then we assess based on those responses and one of the field agents will go out and visit, look at their financials, meet the team and then we make a decision.

Right now we have about a 50% acceptance rate. We’ve had over 100 applicants.

 

Gina: Is that acceptance rate based on resource availability or because they were denied?

 

Aneri: Both, most that are rejected are because they don’t qualify but others that do but we don’t have resources to extend further debt are added to a waiting list.  Those that don’t qualify its because we’ve identified some red flags on the way.  

 

Gina: Tell us about your capacity building services that you offer to your borrowers.

 

Aneri: We offer two different forms of capacity building:  first we run a three-day boot camp training and provide lessons on business management, marketing, sales, human resources management finance, the nuts and bolts, plus games to encourage risk-taking.  We also have our product suppliers come to train on their products. There’s a common saying in business that you can only sell what you can you yourself use so we want to ensure they like the technology and use it before they try to sell it.

That training is a good intro to what we do but it's not enough.   We have volunteer development fellows who work with each organisation and help them on the day-to-day.  They’ll typically have a business background.  We have generated enough interest now that we are able to match one to one.  They do it for 3 months but we are trying to engage the volunteers longer.  Some of them spend the full 3 months with the community organisation.  Others are remote and mentor an entrepreneur from afar.

Those are the two ways we do capacity building.

 

Gina: What’s your vision for ENVenture 5 years from now?

 

Aneri: WE hope to be working with hundreds of community organisations by that time and at least 1/5thwill secure follow-up funding that will bloom into an SME.  That’s the real dream, to create successful enterprises that can hire hundreds of employees and be competitive against some of the international companies in the marketplace.

 

Gina: Do you see yourself operating outside of Uganda in the future?

 

Aneri:  When I started ENVenture, I thought we would end up in different countries but the more we work in Uganda, we are such experts in this market that might not be valuable in other countries.  My entire team is Ugandan and I’d have to start over with a new team.  Also, I don’t think we’d ever saturate the market because there are still 30 million people without access to clean energy in Uganda and ENVenture is not going to offer the silver bullet to fix that. As long as that need exists we will always have a market.  Now we just want to go deeper and work with more rural communities there.

 

Gina: What else is needed to tackle this problem in a bigger way?

 

Aneri: Financing for loans under US$50,000 that is affordable.  This is limiting all Ugandan entrepreneurs.  Academics call this the ‘missing middle’, which is one of the reasons why the UN’s Millennium Development Goals were not successful.  Something like 3 out of every 4 jobs are created by small local organisations and these ventures not being able to grow because they lack access to capital.  Here in the US, we have favourable tax schemes if you want to set up a small business you can get a loan from the government that is affordable, which is not available in Uganda.  The financial infrastructure availability is key.

 

Gina:  That’s our experience as well and one of our missions is to drive more private capital, including philanthropic capital including debt financing to social enterprises globally.

Moving on to ENVision mobile, I know you are in early days but have you been concerned about any unintended consequences?

 

Aneri:  I think that while we don’t have any direct competitors at this time, what we will find is that a lot of companies that would be interested in accessing this platform have invested in creating their own tech.  This will be a barrier to entry. However, we also think there are many early-stage organisations that don’t have the funding to build out their own tech that will use ours. And of course getting the first paying 10 customers is always the hardest!

 

Gina:  Indeed! We’ll keep our fingers crossed there!  

Now a broader question, I like to ask our guests: what is your definition of a social enterprise?

 

Aneri:  A social enterprise is one that is focused on creating both impact and profit.  You have responsible companies that are adopting the Google motto ‘do no evil’ but don’t focus on impact.  I think you can be called a social enterprise if you measure impact.  For instance, Uber could be a social enterprise if they rebranded and claimed to be a car-sharing company that’s focused on reducing Co2 emissions, and then spent resources into measuring how much car sharing has reduced emissions.  But they’re not doing that and they are not talking about it, and I’m not even sure the company itself is motivated by CO2 reductions.  I think that the impact focus is a critical piece.  

 

Gina: You mentioned the importance of access to financing for success.  What are other impediments that you see are keeping social enterprising from succeeding?

 

Aneri: Another big piece of this is that there needs to be better human resource management in small businesses. We see a lot of failed business because the staff is unmotivated or unhappy.  When we train these organisations, we explore how they motivate their staff, how do they make sales agents feel that they are a part of the team, how do you ensure that everyone gets paid on time, those are all important things and I hear this as a common complaint and it boils down to poor human resource management.  That’s one big problem that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

 

Gina: Agreed.  I don’t hear about this issue often either.

Another broad question: what are your views on the connection between doing well financially and doing good for society?  

 

Aneri:  I think there is a huge amount of good that the for-profit sector can do for society.   I think of Unilever for example, they were one of our first major donors and an example of a business that have practiced CSR not just from the corporate philanthropy donations model but also integrate responsibility throughout the culture of the company.  How to source sustainably to ensure you’re mitigating environmental impacts, for instance. They’ve really spoken out about this issue and they are a huge multinational company so there’s no reason why others cannot follow. I don’t think that doing well financially and doing good are mutually exclusive.  They are both possible.

 

Gina: Yes, we need as many champions in the corporate world as we can find.

I have one last question for you.  What is necessary in order to shift the needle towards sustainability?

 

Aneri: You have to be careful not to put too much on consumers.  People know what they need to do to be more environmentally conscious, drive less, eat less meat, don’t use your AC as much, but this is not an easy thing to do. When you talk about behaviour change there is only so much you can expect people to change on.  There’s a role for companies and government.  

You probably saw that WeWork (the shared office company) recently announced that the company would not reimburse employees for purchasing meat.  I thought that it was interesting that a for-profit company that is not environmentally focused would take that kind of a stance.

 

Gina: I’d like to jump in here for the benefit of our readers who may not be familiar with this. WeWork recently announced that they would no longer be serving meat at their company functions nor would they reimburse or cover costs for meat consumption as a part of a business expense.  I thought that was a bold move and felt that first was less controversial than the second.

 

Aneri:  My point is that radical behaviour change is not going to happen coming from people, it will come from the top and there is a real role for companies and governments to play. ENVenture is focused on mobilising grassroots communities to sell clean energy, but the government absolutely needs to push consumers to buy clean energy. There’s only so much that our cooperatives can do. There need to be more companies that are shifting towards responsibility and governments need to also integrate sustainability into their policies.

 

Gina: My feeling on this subject is that every group has a role that it must play to achieve sustainability.  I take your point about individuals being reluctant to lose out on their conveniences and think that’s legitimate.  Where I do see an opportunity for bottom-up change is with younger generations through their consumer choices and investment practices. Tying this to the beginning of our conversation, your model is a bottom-up approach, I think that this is important and necessary to shift the needle. Perhaps we shouldn’t overly rely on individuals driving change alone but I think that we are part of the solution.

I think this is a good place to wrap up.  I want to wish you all the best with the launch of ENVision mobile.  Please share updates with us so that we can pass those on to our readers. 

 

Aneri: Thank you, it was an interesting conversation!

 

Gina: Thank you for joining us today. If readers want to follow up with you how can they find you?

 

Aneri:  I can be reached by email at aneri@enventureenterprises.org.

 

Aneri Pradhan is the Founder and Executive Director of ENVenture, a social enterprise that seeks to equip rural communities with the business tools needed to sell clean energy technologies and is a tech for good innovator who has built and launched a new mobile application called   ENVision mobile for inventory tracking, sales, and distribution for the informal sector.