“Entrepreneurs are harbingers of prosperity”

Interview with Mr Harsh Bhargava, Founder, I-Create, Washington, USA

Mr Harsh Bhargava

By the turn of the last century, Washington-based Harsh Bhargava had made it big in the USA through his international management consultancy firm Bankworld. The company had done work in over 70 countries, including India, mainly by spearheading economic development projects in emerging markets. But when the Harvard Business School-alumni visited India in 1999, his eyes opened up to newer possibilities. The Kargil war was on and thousands of young men would queue up for recruitment in the Indian Army. But jobs were rare, and recruitment not easy. Mr Bhargava new that the jobless could not go on waiting for jobs that were simply not there. The answer lay in creating entrepreneurs who would one day go on to drive the economy of the country. With that vision came up I Create, starting out in Kolkata and spreading to other parts. Mr Bhargava speaks to India Empire about the I Create journey

Please walk us through the inspiration behind I Create?
I was visiting India from the US in 1999. The Kargil war was going on. The army had advertised for 120 positions in Jhunjunu, Raj. There were so many unemployed youth then that over 100,000 young men showed up for the jobs. The recruiters didn’t have even a fraction of job applications to go around, causing much frustration among the youth waiting for them in blistering heat. They got restless and a riot broke out. The police opened fire and three young men died—three young men who had come looking for jobs to support their families! 
Why not train the youth to start their own small businesses instead of looking for jobs, just not there? The idea of I Create was born in his mind. 
I Create’s first centre was set up in Kolkata in 2000 that had 6 million unemployed youth then. The goal was to create job creators instead of job seekers. We had approached Dr Purnendu Chatterji, a very successful NY based entrepreneur and a philanthropist to be part of the I Create board and supporter. He said- on one condition that we also start an operation in Kolkata! And the Kolkata center was born.
Rather than rediscover the wheel, I Create took an award winning curriculum developed by New York based Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and completely adapted for India. Gandhiji once said that if you have a good cause, people pop up from the pavement to join you. There are now 15 centers some with multiple operations and growing. 

You do believe then that the world needs more entrepreneurs?
India and the whole world needs entrepreneurs since they are harbingers of prosperity and creators of jobs.
About 10 million youth join the job market every year, but there are not enough meaningful jobs to provide these young people an opportunity to pursue their dreams in the new India.
To reap this unique and possibly one time demographic dividend, as important as it is, it is not enough to simply provide them trade and vocation skills. Unless the GDP growth rate returns to around 10%, the economy cannot create jobs even for this large new influx of the youth looking to fulfill their dreams in the new India creator of jobs. Unless, adequate jobs are created.
When you create entrepreneurs, you create jobs and create confidence in everyday persons in ways nothing else does. Let me illustrate. 
I Create’s most successful entrepreneur, Samad in W Bengal runs a business with a sales of Rs 10 Crore and employs 200 people directly and another 250 indirectly. I Create entrepreneur Jyotsna Parmar employs 30 people and has helped 4 more to start on their own. Same with Ritesh Mali in Vadodara who has created a large number of employees and entrepreneurs. Most of the other entrepreneurs are very small but have the potential of becoming Jyotsna or Ritesh and perhaps even Samad. 

Here’s a quote from Dr Abdul Kalam, former President of India about I Create:
Dr. APJ Adbul Kalam, former President of India, lauded I Create’s program publicly and quoted the example of one of I Create entrepreneurs, Abdus Samad, a poor young man from a village, who, after I Create training, started a seed farm business 6 years back. His business volume is Rs 10 Crore now and 450 families earn their livelihoods from his enterprise.
“Entrepreneurship incubation institutions (such as I Create) need to be developed all over India and the developing world,” added Dr. Kalam.

In some ways the socio-psychological impact is equally important ranging from a life of dignity to someone like Jaipur’s Miss Jain who almost committed suicide due to poverty and in-laws pressure to bring more dowry- until she became an I Create entrepreneur and a self confident woman.

Do you think that it is important for an individual to explore one’s enterprising mind, and even start small?
Absolutely. Never before in India had been such opportunity to create your own business and pursue your own dream. 
We only work with grassroots level and promote micro enterprises. Even if they don’t succeed, for a small price, they get a priceless experience whether they end up taking up a job or making another attempt at entrepreneurship.

Bankworld is a prominent consulting firm. When did you set it up? Is it independent from I Create?
Bankworld and I Create are totally different organizations. Bankworld was started by my brother, Bharat Bhargava in 1998 as an international financial and economic area consulting company, and now has worked in 70 countries. As the president of the company, I provide project leadership to our consultants in various countries.
At I Create, my wife, Dr Aruna Bhargava and I work on purely a voluntary basis.

Please talk us through your years in India? Where did you grow, up study?
I was born and brought up in Jaipur, where my father was the founder of Commerce College and my mother a social worker and Member of Parliament for 12 years during Nehru and Shastri days. I did my BA from Rajasthan College, where I was the students’ president in my third year. I enjoyed all the extracurricular activities in the college and, was lucky to have got first division all through, with first position in Intermediate in the university and second position in BA in the university.
I guess some of my instincts for paying back the debt to the society come from my mother who, while raising five of her kids, was a unstoppable social worker, primarily working for the cause of Rajasthani women, who had been left so far behind in economic, social and educational areas.

You’ve been in the USA for over 35 years, and yet have a strong bonding with India. Does this bonding come from a need to do something for the motherland?
As they say, you can leave India, but if you are born and brought up in India, India doesn’t leave you. And I am so glad for it.
We have been going to India every year, sometimes more than once, for the past 14 years for I Create work.

What has been your most inspiring moment in life?
There have been many but the latest was the experience I had at the end of I Create’s Aspiring Entrepreneurship Workshop (AEW) for girls from poorer communities at a Regional Vocational Training Center (RVTC) in Mumbai. It was a transformational experience for the girls. Here is the story.
It was a five day intensive program early this year which culminated with the business plan presentation in front of invited guests, which included successful local entrepreneurs.
There were about 30 girls who came from low income families. They were thin and small and looked undernourished. They gave the impression of being shy and timid. They had five day intensive AEW and, when they came up in front of the class and several strangers (including all of us visitors), they very confidently presented their creative Business Plans using PowerPoint. They had been divided into groups of six. Each group member covered one aspect of their business plan so that everyone had a chance to speak. They covered among other subjects:
• Identification of business opportunity and market research
• Marketing, pricing and distribution plan
• Competitive factors and risks mitigation 
• Costing of unit of sales of their product or service
• Break even, Cash flow and income statement
• How to raise startup capital and keep it a low cost operation in the initial stages
They used props they had created, as also the samples of their products, brochures and business cards, all with their company name, logo and tagline!
They exhibited such confidence and such mastery of what they spoke that all of us were amazed how much they had learned. It was as if they had undergone a mini MBA course in such short time. 
They all spoke in their native Marathi and made their presentations very interesting. One group even enacted a little skit in the course of the presentation. They handled the questions from the judges very well. When asked if they intended to actually start the business they presented, most replied in the affirmative.
The Principal of RVTC later told us that she couldn’t believe the change in the girls’ confidence level. The girls were always so shy that they never spoke in class other than saying “good morning”. These girls had undergone a transformation.
Dr Sudhir Jain, the Director of IIT Gandhinagar had joined us at the business plan presentation. As he left after the program, he said to me and my wife Aruna, “You are blessed!”. He couldn’t have said it better.

What is your vision for India?
I would like to see a metamorphosis in the way our young tens of millions are being educated from becoming a repository of knowledge to becoming creative and independent minded individuals who can think on their own feet from their earliest days in schools, such that each one of them can explore his or her potential in their lives to the full, without fear or lack of confidence.
I Create teaching and training methodology is designed to do just that and my vision is that it reaches all our wonderful boys and girls in India.

What is your biggest gain from the USA?
An education both at Harvard Business School, and working in US companies, which has allowed me full growth of my potential; an attitude of giving back to the community; and an opportunity to start my own successful business and a non-profit, I Create.

August 2013

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