In the race for this year’s prestigious Hult Prize, Poshnam, formed by four Indian entrepreneurs, hopes to act as a link between food producers and consumers in urban slums
Four budding Indian entrepreneurs are currently brainstorming at Boston in the U.S. to find a way out of the world food crisis. They wish to make nutritious, affordable food a reality for urban slums and so call themselves Poshnam, meaning healthy diet.
Five other teams are also in the race but only one among them will walk away with a whopping $ one million, the award for winning the prestigious Hult Prize. In this annual affair, the Clinton Global Initiative ropes in promising, fresh talent from international economics and B-schools to find innovative solutions to global challenges, this year the theme being food crisis. In the process, it shapes entrepreneurs with a greater vision and helps them launch socially beneficial ventures that use knowledge and high-end technology for noble ends.
Though all Poshnam members are graduates from Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Philippines, they come from diverse backgrounds. Raj Bordia, who is also the AIM overseas president, is from Rajasthan and has worked on corporate strategy. Saurabh Bathla from Gujarat has been into retail pharmacy. While Shivesh Gaurav from Uttar Pradesh is a mechanical engineer, Ravindra Rapeti from Andhra Pradesh is a communications graduate and co-founder of an online car pooling service. A casual get-together at AIM had them discussing their social goals and the opportunity of an open competition and Poshnam was born.
Poshnam is one of the six regional finalists that edged out 250 shortlisted entries from among 2,000 applications for the Hult Prize this year. The other chosen teams are — ESADE Barcelona; London School of Economics; University of Cape Town; Hult Business School, San Francisco; and McGill University, Canada.
The finalists were invited to cultivate their ideas with the resources, expert guidance and exposure provided at a two-month accelerator in Boston. With world-famous entities as mentors, the accelerator is a holistically designed workshop to address all aspects of social entrepreneurship. “Training here, we’ve come to understand that there are small but crucial links in our model, and if they go wrong, the whole structure can collapse. It has helped us to be more open yet proactive in our approach,” says Raj.
All the teams are currently developing a prototype of their unique and sustainable model to combat the global food crisis. They will present it on September 23 at the CGI Annual Meet in New York before an eminent jury of world leaders comprising former U.S. President Bill Clinton, his daughter Chelsea Clinton and Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus among others.
But what does Poshnam really propose to do? It plans on building a chain whereby off-spec food would be bought from farmers’ cooperatives, then distributed to slums through women self-help groups formed out of slum dwellers. Off-spec food is high on nutrition but low in visual appeal and already makes its way into slums, but as it goes through many middlemen and long transit period, its nutritional value goes down. It is here that Poshnam aims to intervene by acting as a prompt link between the food producers and consumers, cutting down the transit period by a couple of days and ensuring quality control through cold storage and lab testing facilities. Banking on the innate quality of farmers and slum dwellers to share, the model hopes to create micro enterprises on its way.
The Hult Prize is not just about shooting brilliant ideas. Many times ground realities can be quite different. While competing at the Asia Pacific level, the AIM team first came up with the idea of community kitchens, but the proposal was rejected by most slum dwellers in Philippines. “Cooking is a way of family bonding in these communities and few wanted to give it up,” says Ravindra. So the present proposal evolved after studying several dynamics.
Irrespective of the Hult Prize outcome, Poshnam plans to launch its pilot project in Hyderabad slums once it is back in India.