On October 1, EcoLogic will be bringing 10 experts on topics from indigenous rights to climate change together for Turning the Tables: Nurturing Resilience, a dinner party with a twist. Here, Nish Acharya, one of the experts we have invited to dinner, reflects on his career journey, sustainability, and a preview of what guests at his dinner table can plan to discuss.
Nish Acharya is CEO of Citizence, a firm that consults with some of the world’s leading universities, governments, foundations and companies to assist them with innovation, entrepreneurship and globalization strategies. Mr. Acharya is currently leading a social enterprise investment fund for the Calvert Foundation, and is as a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress, a Visiting Fellow with Gateway House: The Indian Council on Global Relations, and a contributor to Forbes.
His topic at Turning the Tables is “Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystems.”
Tell us a bit about your professional background and your experience regarding Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystems.
For the last fifteen years or so, I have worked on issues related to innovation and entrepreneurship. The context has been different though. In the United States, my work in the Obama Administration and the Deshpande Foundation has mainly been focused on the fact that our economy is shifting from larger companies employing thousands of workers to small companies, entrepreneurs, and startups employing fewer employees who can do many things. This means that we must teach people to be “entrepreneurial” – which at the most basic level, means that they must know how to take leadership to solve problems. The elements of this include identifying a passion, experimentation, managing people and budgets, and achieving scale.
In the developing world, my work through the Deshpande Foundation, and more recently, as an advisor and consultant, has focused on the role of innovation in finding solutions to challenging problems of development – such as the delivery of education, health care, and energy to developing countries. On the entrepreneurship side, it’s focused on creating a generation of leaders who can solve problems in their home countries, so that they don’t rely on foreign aid or international NGO’s for help.
What led you to develop such a passion for this subject?
It was seeing the impact that entrepreneurs had on their local economies. While the world might be flat, we live in our communities, and can really only comprehend solutions that help those communities. Over the last 25 years, I have seen entrepreneurs create new industries that have absorbed workers that were downsized by other industries. And, I have seen the inefficiency and waste of leading development projects in the developing world while living in the West.
What are some of your current projects relating to Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystems?
Currently, I am working with several governments, universities and companies to help them understand innovation, and to become more entrepreneurial. The millennial generation all want to be entrepreneurs, and larger institutions are struggling to understand how to cater to them. This and the macro changes I mentioned above are pushing institutions to become flatter, more entrepreneurial and more connected to their communities.
What do you think you can learn from discussing this topic at our event?
Innovation and entrepreneurship is not about the kid sitting in Starbucks with a laptop. It’s about finding new technologies or business models that can solve age old problems in education, health care, agriculture or anything else. And entrepreneurship is finding and nurturing the leaders who will make the change happen. So I think it’s imperative that groups like EcoLogic, with such great impact around the world, are thinking about it as it relates to their work and how they cultivate leaders on the ground.
What is the number one thing you would like the people sitting at your table to walk away with at the end of the night?
That the entrepreneurial journey is the same across the world, even if the context is different. The Kendall Square entrepreneur, the microfinance small business owner, the social entrepreneur, and NGO leader all go through the same journey in building their organizations and creating impact, even if their context is different. They all still have to figure out their mission, raise money, find customers/partners and scale.
In your opinion, how do you think EcoLogic can make a difference in the world?
EcoLogic is an amazing organization because it has found a way to bring the best of the United States and the best of the developing world together in an organization. It has a great team in the US that has deep sectoral expertise and access to capital and thought-leadership. In the countries it works in, it has great partners, on-the-ground knowledge, and a good business model. This is exactly the type of work that US-based groups can excel at. Much more so than trying to do everything by itself.
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