What brings together over 50 young engineers, bankers, teachers, students, and entrepreneurs from India? They are all part of the 1,800-strong global community of StartingBloc Fellows in Social Innovation.
StartingBloc, founded in 2005, is a “people incubator” for social innovators who believe that social and economic value creation are complementary. Each year, StartingBloc hosts three Institutes in Social Innovation for 400 ambitious 18-30 year olds selected from a global pool of applicants. The five-day institutes include sessions on skill and relationship-building, a Social Innovation Competition case challenge, and conversations with experienced social innovators.
“Everyone I met or worked with on non-profits was somehow connected to the StartingBloc community and could not stop talking about it. That inspired me to look it up and eventually apply,” explains Aghana Mahajan, a MBA student at Babson College in the US. Individuals apply to the fellowship for the opportunity to learn more about social innovation and cross-sector partnerships, and develop a global network. “I knew being a part of StartingBloc would mean engaging in meaningful conversations with highly passionate individuals who have emerged as leaders in their own realm. This would enrich my perspective and actions in my own projects and country, and would give me a potent support system to take help from” says Hemakshi Meghani, a Teach for India Fellow.
Unlike other social enterprise fellowships, which often cater towards established entrepreneurs, StartingBloc accepts social innovators at any stage—college students, budding and experienced entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and those looking to leave their day-job to pursue a career in the social sector. “Everyone is united by a common vision for the world and society even though individual goals might differ” notes Arjun Guleria, who recently started a brand consultancy and consults for start-ups.
StartingBloc Fellow-affiliated ventures in India include InVenture, Artoo, Wello,TopTalent.in, National Social Entrepreneurship Forum India, Oodio, Poorna Kaksha, Beam & Words, Social Heart, the MINDS Foundation, and ARISE. (also Yourstory.in)
Local chapters in 14 cities all over the world, including an active India chapter, bring Fellows together for regular meet-ups and events. “The network is amazingly giving. I can reach out to any Fellow and rest assured I will hear back, and they will be willing to help me beyond my expectations” says Mahajan. Fellows often use the network for collaboration and personal and professional support. Ankur Saxena, who works at venture capital firm Helion Ventures, supported another StartingBloc Fellow who was launching a social venture by developing the business plan and making introductions to investors. “StartingBloc is a springboard to make connections, get collaborators, and feel inspired to contribute to making the world a better place to live,” says Saxena.
“StartingBloc helped me widen my vision and work towards achieving a bigger goal rather than confining myself to a smaller one” explains Varun Deshpande, Co-founder and CEO of TopTalent. “It also gives us the confidence that we are not alone in creating a better future.”
Applications are now open to join this global tribe of social innovators and attend the next StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation in February 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.
Full disclosure: The author is a StartingBloc Fellow.
Hila Mehr is an IDEX Fellow in Social Enterprise in Hyderabad, India. Connect on Twitter @HilaMehr.