Fellow Since 1998
This description of Anil Singh's work was prepared when Anil Singh was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
Anil Singh's six-step training model develops entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities and addresses the shortcomings of most business training. His long-term follow-up support for poor women entrepreneurs enables them to set up enduring enterprises and ultimately to become self-sustaining.
The New Idea
Anil has grown frustrated with ineffective, government-run development plans that offer only very limited services to poor people who want to start their own micro-enterprises. Recognizing the urgent need for reform, he has designed a comprehensive model that is helping redefine conventional understandings of entrepreneurship. "Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle statement that connotes much more than financial resources, credit, and savings," Anil says. "By helping marginalized communities to fuel the vast reserves of traditional wisdom and human resources that exist among them, we develop their creative capacity for improving their living standards and establishing their own comprehensive community-management systems." To help develop such systems, Anil provides training, practical feedback, and ongoing support. These help budding entrepreneurs meet the initial challenges, as well as the long-term sustainability questions associated with micro-enterprise. Anil's clients are women's self-help groups in rural communities and urban slums that have been organized by other citizen sector organizations and have already learned the preliminary lessons of entrepreneurship development. They have either already begun managing micro-enterprises or are just beginning to launch their own enterprises. While his broad focus is on income generation, he also places a very clear emphasis on enhancing the entrepreneurial character of the groups, which Anil considers crucial for sustainability. He targets these groups because training programs that fail to emphasize long-term survival strategies leave them particularly vulnerable.
With unemployment on the rise throughout India, thousands of unemployed workers, mostly from rural and disadvantaged urban communities, are starting their own enterprises to sustain themselves and their families. However, programs to train potential entrepreneurs have not helped them deal with the practical problems of setting up micro-enterprises. The competition is intense, knowledge of the market inadequate, and staying power minimal. Since Independence, most economic development programs for the poor have been implemented through blanket government schemes for all disadvantaged communities across India. But such programs, like the Integrated Rural Development Program, Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas, and Integrated Tribal Development Program, consume huge budgets and deliver only limited services. They have been unable to accommodate the diverse needs of India's disadvantaged communities and have failed to identify local resources and potential. Instead, they have forced communities to adopt unsustainable trade linkages. Furthermore, these schemes have been carried out by government departments and nationalized banks, neither of which have adequate delivery mechanisms to reach the communities they are supposed to serve. The majority of these government-run programs have also been very one-sided, providing only basic skills training and a start-up kit. Qualities that ensure sustainability such as management skills, knowledge about backward and forward linkages, familiarity with government regulations, and other follow-up supports have not been cultivated. Despite these impediments, the poor, disadvantaged, isolated, and long exploited communities are expected to circumvent economic and cultural handicaps and produce successful entrepreneurs.Work conducted by citizen sector organizations has been more effective, but it has required many years of painstaking partnership to make local groups even minimally self-sufficient. As a result, economic development through income-generating programs has largely failed to make an impact. Women laborers are particularly disadvantaged because most have not had the opportunity to learn about the private sector before striking out on their own, and because they still face substantial discrimination. Before starting their own enterprises, women have often had no entrepreneurial experience whatsoever, and are especially in need of training.
Anil founded the Network of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (NEED) which provides the institutional basis for his generic training model, the Entrepreneurship-linked Income Generation for Self-Employment Program (EIGSEP). The program's training process consists of six stages, each of which is designed to meet the challenges of a specific dimension of entrepreneurship building. Every stage covers a combination of complex (and essentially urban) human resource development principles that have been adjusted to the everyday situation of grassroots communities. The training program marries theoretical sessions with practical experiences and at the final stage, provides clients with long-term practical supports for the actual establishment of enterprises and/or the achievement of self-sufficiency a service for lack of which most entrepreneurship development programs come undone.The initial stage focuses on entrepreneurship motivation and training. It builds among clients an awareness and sensitivity to the concept of human capital. This is usually the entry point for NEED, where trust is quickly built with trainee groups and the partner citizen sector organizations. This stage develops the leadership potential and personal entrepreneurial skills of the group through role-playing and other adapted management games.At the second stage of the process, the opportunities and project guidance module trains clients to scan resources meticulously to study local markets, available skills, and local resources vis-a-vis existing industrial policy. Clients then develop long-term vision and short-term market-driven plans for their enterprises. This helps trainees map creative local resourcing strategies for their enterprises and conduct honest appraisals of their strengths and weaknesses. According to Anil, such introspection is essential for developing entrepreneurial discipline among clients. The third stage imparts expertise in management issues such as managing time, proprietorship, and negotiating with partners. Anil calls the fourth stage "Shop-Floor Training." It exposes clients to the operational and production technicalities of their enterprise and teaches women entrepreneurs to understand and handle technology, which is a traditionally male domain. Class members meet both successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs, and interact with financiers, machine operators, and account managers. This stage validates the clients' previous theoretical training on a practical ground and gives them a first-hand feel of how real entrepreneurs operate.The lessons of the previous stages come together at the end of the training, when most entrepreneurship development program efforts unravel. During the "Escort" phase, the clients collectively recapitulate the entire learning process. After a thorough appraisal of the participants's grasp of the issues, teachers immediately fill any knowledge gaps. According to Anil, deficiencies carried over at this stage often lead to failure. The Escort service then helps participants in the practical processes of setting up a micro-enterprise. This involves clearing all paperwork, registering with the District Industrial Council, dealing with regulations and government bodies, licensing and regulating authorities such as the State Pollution Control Board, and the trade tax departments. The Escort service provides a critical push at this stage, because the initial hesitation of budding entrepreneurs, once left to themselves, often leads to the collapse of entire projects.Follow-up services also include phased interventions adjusted to the needs of the trainee groups. During the follow-up stage, NEED organizes regular meetings with clients and encourages them to engage more people from their communities in starting self-supporting businesses. Anil insists that his program should create business leaders who spread their entrepreneurial skills to others. NEED disengages from its clients completely after a period of two years.Anil has validated the effectiveness of his approach with citizen sector organizations, government functionaries, and international donors. To date, the EIGSEP technique has been applied to train self-help groups in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat. Over 150 nongovernmental organizations and 400 village groups have been reached through the EIGSEP initiative. NEED has developed exhaustive and user-friendly manuals on the EIGSEP methods for mass-based community organizations that have already trained with NEED.Aware that the government is the largest delivery mechanism for entrepreneurship development programs and income generation projects, NEED works closely with officials in Uttar Pradesh. For example, EIGSEP implemented the Sodic Land Reclamation Project with assistance from the European Union and the World Bank. Representatives from 220 citizen sector organizations were trained alongside 100 government functionaries in conjunction with the project. EIGSEP has also trained National Thermal Power Corporation personnel across the country to build the capacity of the corporation's rural rehabilitation program. NEED acts as a nodal agency, documenting, researching and creating training programs for specific clients. In order to improve its accessibility, NEED plans to branch out to smaller centers in Indore, Bundelkhand, and Ranchi. It also works as an active lobby with government authorities to improve and activate the government's income-generation programs.
Anil was born in Bihar's Arrah district, which is known for its backwardness and lawlessness. The son of a traditional farmer, Anil was a brilliant student who went on to study in and work with some of India's premier management and financial organizations.When he graduated from a local college, Anil had little exposure to career trends. At the time of his graduation, business managers were in high demand, so Anil decided to pursue the career path. "This was the first time I realized how different things were going to be for me," Anil remembers. "I left my village for the first time and slept on a towel on the station platform on my way to Chandigarh for an interview! And after travelling so far, I found that the interviewers were more interested in stories of lawlessness in Arrah than in my application."Anil met the founder and president of the Xavier Institute of Social Service, who helped him visualize a career in rural development. He went on to complete post-graduate studies in the field but retained his interest in management.Anil was first introduced to entrepreneurship development as a research fellow at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. There, he worked on a number of innovative experiments and began to sense the special needs of this sector. Anil continued to work there for several years so that he could learn enough to eventually work on his own. He gave up a secure job as the head of a premier training institution to start NEED. His rural background, academic excellence, and practical experience give him a special understanding and insight into his field and fuel his own social sense of entrepreneurship.