By Pallavi Menon
When I started my fall semester Legal Studies course at the Wharton School, I was anticipating a multidisciplinary perspective on corporate responsibility and ethics, as mentioned in the course description. Little did I know that my professor would provide me with the opportunity to work with an initiative shaped by Wharton and the World Bank. Shortly after my second midterm, Ideas for Action Co-Chair and Wharton Professor Djordjija Petkoski connected a fellow classmate and me with I4A and instructed us to prepare a consulting proposal for the expansion of Starlight, the previous winner of the I4A competition. We had recently read about the business model in class and while I had a couple of broad suggestions, I was uncertain on how they would be financially and logistically feasible. This is where the I4A accelerator came in. Through the hours spent with I4A, our rough ideas were transformed into a comprehensive consulting proposal. As we received feedback on how to develop our ideas, I felt my horizons broaden as I learned to view each of my solutions through financial, operational and marketing lenses. In a sense, this was a real-life application of the skills I had been exposed to as a sophomore at the Wharton School. The results of our efforts were finally showcased through a presentation to the founder of Starlight, two World Bank Officials and my peers.
This presentation was just the beginning of my voyage with I4A. Being a student from Bangalore, I soon began to work with Professor Petkoski to understand how I4A could broaden its reach to young entrepreneurs in India. This was a chance to give college students from around India a voice in the global development conversation. Given my father’s involvement in IT companies and my mother’s experience in social work, I had a couple of ideas on how to engage participants. Not long after I landed in India during my winter break, I was sending emails to managers and business school professors to set up virtual and face-to-face meetings. The positive response was astounding! Students from IIMB were thrilled at the prospect of having a platform for their ideas. Teams working at local NGOs were also enthusiastic about showcasing their innovation.
My interactions started with Devika Krishnan, founder of the NGO Joy at Work. This initiative promotes the utilization of upcycled bags created by otherwise unskilled women from rural Bangalore. These socially and environmentally sustainable projects are just one example of the type of initiatives that the I4A competition encourages. I subsequently connected with IT companies such as Infosys and Intel to understand their ideas for disruptive technologies. Social enterprise incubators and investment companies, including Villgro and Menterra, are also opening up new avenues of possibilities. Even connecting with alumni from universities across India and social workers in Bangalore have helped spread the word to so many budding entrepreneurs.
Most recently, on January 10, 2019, I found myself waiting outside the Alumni Relations office at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIMB). I mentally rehearsed all the things I wanted to say as I waited to be invited into the Alumni Chair’s office. At that point, I began reflecting on my journey, aware that regardless of how this meeting would proceed, I had learned so much these past few months. It is my hope that Ideas for Action 2019 will see many more participants from India as they too take on an active role in this global action plan for sustainability.