A fitting homage to Babasaheb Ambedkar will be a fundamental transition from entitlement based approach to an entrepreneurial system to empower and emancipate the Dalit community. Recently, some chambers of commerce dedicated to Dalit entrepreneurs have come up. Yet the dominant discourse in the country is to give them protection rather than opportunity for a dignified growth. There are several steps that the government, private sector and civil society actors, can take to turn around the mind set and bring about a cultural transition.
During a television debate on reservation, the founder of a very successful competitive company argued against affirmative action. I asked him, “What was the percentage of the Dalits in his manufacturing plant.” He said, “About 30-35 percent”. I asked, “Wasn’t that a proof that to achieve global competitiveness one-third Dalit work force has made a significant contribution towards quality and productivity and global competitiveness of his compamy? Obviously, he had no answer to that.
Today when venture funds hesitate to invest in hard/manufacturable technologies at early stage, will it make sense to support their investment supported by guarantee funds when targeting at disadvantaged social sections of the society. The recent Roundtable on Financing of Innovations as a part of Festival of Innovation at Rashtrapati Bhavan, several suggestions were made. Earmarking one percent bank fund for innovation, creating standard agenda item for monitoring actual support to innovators at the Board of Directors level in commercial banks, at state and district level bankers committees, modifying the provisioning norms, paying special attention to disadvantaged section while searching for innovation based start-ups and linking these start-ups to existing corporate clients for scaling up their businesses. The Prime Minister has already issued instructions that one of the two innovation based start-ups to be financed from banks should be from Dalit background and I would say, preferably women.
There are many Dalit girls who are performing very well in biotech, engineering and several other scientific and social disciplines. However, given the limited opportunity of socialisation with achievers and successful entrepreneurs, a kind of self denial take place. A special focus on mentoring such bright students is imperative for promoting entrepreneurship. A truly inclusive development cannot take place unless special efforts are made to bring Dalit innovators and entrepreneurs in the eco-system. Among the bodies honoured by NIF and SRISTI there are large number of farmers and students who have done very well. However, a lot more remains to be done. Reservation by itself will not go far in enriching the ecosystem. We have to rejuvenate the aspirations and recharge our commitment to enable higher opportunities for Dalit innovators and talent on merit. Let us hope that the spirit of Babasaheb will sustain our commitment for transition from an entitled based system to an entrepreneurial and empathetic mode of inclusive innovation.