Matching Expertise to the Many Needs of Small, Indian Enterprises

2015

When he entered the online MBA program at the University of Liverpool, Nigel Majakari was simply looking for a practical course that would help him expand his skills and possibly bring something new to his work. At the time, Nigel was working for a boutique consulting firm that advised clients on policy, advocacy and public health initiatives, often in India. The idea of doing “something new” snowballed into what is now Chilasa Venture Philanthropy, an innovative group that looks to provide small enterprises in developing countries with the tools they need to grow and succeed.

During his work on the thesis project for his MBA, Nigel was able to take a step back from the consulting work he had done for many years. He examined small enterprises through the eyes of the entrepreneurs, most often women. And he focused his project on entrepreneurs in small villages in India, where he already had an extensive network. He found that many small-time entrepreneurs didn’t see themselves as entrepreneurs at all. “They were just trying to survive.” But they often had the drive and skills to move the business forward. Nigel started asking how these people could be better equipped to be successful and identified key business challenges inherent in most small enterprises in developing countries. From this, Chilasa was born.

“The MBA program was the catalyst for the whole idea and let me do preliminary research,” Nigel said. “I found the courage to start something, to build something.” He had always felt the tension between investing long-term in helping a community and just “parachuting in” to solve a problem then getting out, which was often what he did while consulting. His thesis project helped him identify a way to provide the long-term solutions that he knew small enterprises needed.

By addressing the array of challenges small-time entrepreneurs face, not just one or two, Chilasa gives them an “ecosystem of support.” Over 70 percent of small enterprises “have unmet demand for financial and business-building support,” and Chilasa looks to fill those gaps. Nigel’s group believes that investment in small enterprises and their owners generates jobs and economic growth, providing a “new and disruptive solution to poverty.”

“I want to spend the rest of my life helping entrepreneurs solve problems in their communities,” Nigel said. With growing investment and interest in his initiative, and the hope that it can expand outside India, it’s clear Nigel’s new direction is just beginning.