An ex-Microsoft bigwig's mission: 10 mn entrepreneurs, 50 mn jobs by 2030

Ravi Venkatesan
Sometime in December 2017, Ravi Venkatesan went for Vipassana (a form of meditation practiced in Buddhism). On the sixth day of the course, he realised that having had all the interesting jobs in the corporate world, he needed to really solve one of the country's most pressing and hardest problems -- creating employment for the youth. 

A former corporate honcho, Venkatesan has directly and indirectly helped create jobs and contributed to the growth of the economy in his own way. As the chairman of Microsoft India between January 2004 and September 2011, Venkatesan had helped the US-based software major build its second-largest global presence in the country. As a board member and co-chairman of Infosys till the middle of last year, he navigated India’s second-largest IT services company through a challenging set of transitions. Most recently, Venkatesan oversaw the turnaround of Bank of Baroda as the chairman of the public sector lender.

“I got the clearest sense; I started unloading all the things I was doing and created a vacuum to allow new things to come in. I gradually unwound all my corporate work,” says Venkatesan. “There is no problem right now that is more urgent than the challenge of providing gainful work for young people.” 

Shocking truths about unemployment

This prompted him to start GAME (The Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship) in August of 2018 along with edtech entrepreneur Madan Padaki and former Flipkart chief technology officer Mekin Maheshwari.

GAME aims to unlock mass entrepreneurship potential as a convening body that brings alignment within the ecosystem and mobilises action to address systemic challenges. It is a multi-stakeholder alliance that aspires to catalyse the creation of 10 million young entrepreneurs in India, at least half of whom will be women, who, in turn, will create 50 million new jobs by 2030.

“The unemployment among youth (aged) less than 30 is 10 times more than that of people over 30. Also, it (was) a shocking for me (to know) that people with a higher education degree like engineering are six times as likely to be unemployed as somebody with no education,” says Venkatesan, an alumnus of IIT Bombay and Harvard Business School.

According to the National Sample Survey Office's periodic labour force survey report, the unemployment rate in India had reached a 45-year-high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18.

“You have a degree but you're not very employable. That means, we've got a giant crisis on our hands. And the faster we acknowledge it, the faster we can deal with it. The core of the issue is, we need to find new engines of job creation.”

Venkatesan says the tech start-up boom in the country is also not enough for job creation. Only 210,000 people will be employed in all start-ups in India by 2020 (gig economy work is part-time), while India needs to employ 12 million people each year who are joining the workforce.

How the GAME is played

GAME focuses on the ‘mass entrepreneurs’ who typically employ 5-20 people and have been the engines of job growth in the majority of dynamic economies. Though micro-enterprises are India’s largest job creators after agriculture, they have a low scale, and productivity, and hence they offer lower wages. According to the Ministry for Mass Entrepreneurship, since 2014, China has been creating 14,000 new enterprises per day something which India is taking a whole year to create. 

GAME aims to change this by generating outputs that unlock four breakthroughs – financial linkages, market linkages, entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, and technology and tools. This will, in turn, help achieve outcomes across the journey of an entrepreneur – from aspiration to mass entrepreneurship - leading to mass entrepreneurship becoming mainstream, ultimately. 

Not just a chaiwalla: Venkatesan gives the example of M Daniel, the founder of Sharon Tea Stall in Bengaluru, who has built a thriving tea chain business and sells hundreds of varieties of the beverage.

“What is cool about him is he's not a single ‘chaiwallah’ as he has now opened a chain. He has GST registration, pays taxes, has bank accounts and he's doing transactions, not just by cash but also through (platforms like) Paytm,” says Venkatesan, whose aim is to provide support to such kind of ventures become organised and become part of the formal economy.

Tapping children and women: Venkatesan, who is also Unicef special representative for young people, says that GAME is also making it “cool, exciting and aspirational” for youth to start the business. It aims to reach out to the school children to learn entrepreneurship by actually launching small businesses. It is also helping existing ventures such as Sharon Tea scale up their enterprises by providing the right tools, processes and technology. 

For instance, GAME is helping women entrepreneurs to tap opportunities such as building ventures which can provide products such as ‘home-cooked food’ at a very large scale. It is providing them support such as customer acquisition through food delivery platforms as well as social media like WhatsApp. The other such processes include designing the menu, pricing the products, getting new equipment and managing the talent. 

In Bengaluru, it is focused on creating 2,000 women entrepreneurs in the next few years and wants to replicate the model in the next 100 cities. In Punjab, GAME has collaborated with Syngenta Foundation and mapped out different types of businesses that exist around agriculture like cold storage, equipment rental, buying and consolidation of seeds and fertilisers.

GAME is also working with DeAsra Foundation in Pune to help young people to set up new ventures from creating business plans, registering their company and even applying for loans from the banks. “But that's not enough. We (provide) mentors who would actually sit with you and walk you through it,” says Venkatesan. 

He says the impact Game aims to create was not done in the past, because different organisations such as banks, tech firms and fast-moving consumer goods companies were working in silos whether by lending money, setting up incubators or reaching out to the schools. “The dots are not connected. We're creating an alliance and we have hundred plus partners.” These include entrepreneurship development organisations, tech companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, banks and fintech platforms, and marketplaces like Swiggy. 

“See, this problem of employment and entrepreneurship is too big for anyone to solve. It's too big for the government or anyone company. Unless we come together. We can't do it,” says Venkatesan.

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