Social Responsibility for India’s Burgeoning Economy

2014

Kanika Sood, 26 years old, grew up in a small town deep in India’s Himalayas. Her father runs a family store, and her mother is a housewife. Sood says she was taught that the proper role for young women was to get married early and find a nice job. Sood ignored that message. By 18, she had moved to New Delhi to attend Pearl Academy. This was where she developed interests in making handicrafts and pashmina shawls. It’s also where she noticed that artists rarely received fair prices at local markets.

The impulse for many young, college-educated Indians is to get an office job at one of the new companies setting up shop across the country. Sood took a different route. She opened a bank account—with hardly any money—and studied YouTube for guidance on how to build a free website.

She launched the NIEV Foundation (Needful Initiatives for Environment), which provides venues for rural Indian residents—particularly women—to sell handicrafts at fair prices. NIEV also promotes organic farming and ecotourism, and so far has reached nearly 150 Himalayan villages. Sood set a goal to have one client within six months. But within six days, she’d been hired to travel to 40 schools to distribute notebooks and other supplies. She began conducting workshops on social responsibility. Soon, she was advising multinational companies like Pepsi on social responsibility initiatives across India. One of Sood’s initiatives is to create “NIEV environment clubs” at schools across India, potentially reaching 3 million students. Sood recently delivered a powerful TEDx talk on sustainable development.

Sood is on the frontlines of several key shifts. In a 2012 Gallup poll, nearly half of the 5,000 Indian adults surveyed said the government was a significant barrier to launching a business. Nevertheless, there are signs of progress: India’s president has declared this the “decade of innovation,” and proposed a $1 billion innovation fund to create solutions for the country’s food, energy and water security challenges. Sood has become an evangelist for social entrepreneurship. “I want to make a profit by doing good,” she says.

Kanika Sood is giving a powerful voice to a rising generation of Indians. She is also showing us all that it’s possible to make money while doing good for society.