Giving Back to Society

Full-text of the post on venturewoods about what can be the effective means of creating a non-profit which will help in solving some problems (like education) and still can sustain itself without depending too much on fund-raising and corporate sponsorship.

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Every once in a while, the question about giving back to the society pops up in my mind and in my friend’s circle, but we end up dropping it and continuing to do what we have been doing: earn more money.

Howver, so many things have been happening around about me on this topic recently that I am inclined to believe this is a signal to do something now.
Sample this:
1. 2 weeks ago, we (friends from IITD) started talking about PM’s speech to CIIand the fact that while we didn’t agree with such a socialist tone of the address, there is some merit to it that we should explore, and then the discussion went on to “what have we done so far for this, and what can we do?”.
2. 1 week back, someone forwarded me Harvard Commencement speech by Bill Gates, which posed the same question, and gave amazing insight into why people do not give so much to society and what can be done to change it.
3. Around the same time, I picked a book “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” to read during my India trip and have been reading it since. This again talks about how a real zeal to do something for society triggers thousand others to join and support such a cause. In this case, it helped create “Room to Read”

The area that I think requires significant support is providing quality and pertinent education to children and adults alike. However, this is a huge task; according to a survey by govt of India, there are 19.4 crore children in age 6-13, out of which about 80% study in govt schools and 7% are not in any school. This requires substantial investment of money, technology and manpower.
Typically (as near as I can tell), non-profit organizations in India (as elesewhere) have been generating money from donations and grants. However, I feel that this is not a sustainable model for creating a big impact. Instead, I am thinking of models where non-profit company can be a shareholder in a for-profit organization that generates enough money to support this non-profit, and also exerting enough influence in the way the work is done so that the technology can be leveraged both ways. So for example, the for-profit org can create technologies to help teach students on web and apply it to give certificates to engineers (and earn money), and then turn around and license this technology to non-profit to help it use it in rural setup where resources are scarce.

I would like to hear your thoughts on the feasibility of such business models, conflict of interest issues, and other issues that you think will be pertinent when someone goes about doing this. If you are interested in the actual idea, do drop me a note and we can talk about in more detail.

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