Daniella, our Marketing & Communications lead, conducted this interview to introduce our new Incubation lead to the Tribe.
It became really apparent to me after speaking to Varatha that he had an interesting perspective on social entrepreneurship, having grown up in Trichy, and an interesting story in general. I also realized that, as an organization, we should also do a better job of introducing our team to the larger Tribe, so here is the first of the team interviews!
Dani: Hey Varatha! Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you grow up?
Varatha: I was born in Trichy and spent most of my childhood there, until I finished school. I then moved to Chennai for college, studied engineering and worked for 2 years in IT infrastructure. Later I went to New York for my MBA, worked 2 more years as an investment analyst and finally came back to India to pursue a career in the social sector. As a kid, I grew up feeling confused about the blatant inequalities that existed around, and since a very early age I started wondering if there was a way I could live this life solving the poverty problem. My ideas were too naïve until a few years ago, like becoming ultra-rich and doing lots of charity, and it was finally while working in New York when I developed clarity around what I really want to do.
Dani: You’ve told me you love music, and even considered becoming a music producer! I think that’s pretty cool. Can you tell us another fun fact about you?
Varatha: Music production is my most favourite hobby. I had wanted pursue a career in making music for South Indian movies (one of my ideas about becoming rich quickly). I still keep that dream alive except that I desire no more to take it up full time. I am a big eater, and love exploring food. I am a strict vegetarian, so the exploration is quite challenging yet fun. I occasionally like to experiment in the kitchen too. I am a football fan and I religiously follow Chelsea Football Club. I once missed my sister’s birthday celebration to catch a game on TV. Thankfully she forgives quickly.
Dani: I know that you left India to study in the U.S. what inspired you to leave? What inspired you to return home?
Varatha: My excitement at my first job in Chennai wore out quite rapidly and within a year I was left frustrated, not understanding how my daily routines added value to my employer or even my clients. I was curious to learn why businesses mattered and how they could be pivotal to economic development. So I decided to get a degree in business administration. Moving to the U.S. I thought would provide me great exposure and a globally relevant education, which it did.
I loved my job as an investment analyst in the financial capital of the world. I wanted to make a switch from mainstream to the social sector, but my immigrant status made it nearly impossible. At one point, I had to choose whether to return home, where I would have more freedom to explore, or stick with a career in real estate investing for a few more years. I chose to come back and the first few months were very difficult. But looking back now, it is starting to become clear it was a wise decision.
Dani: When did you first hear about social entrepreneurship and what inspired you to join the movement?
Varatha: A series of things led up to it. I think the real eye opener was when I registered as a member of the Microfinance Club of New York. Soon I was a regular at their events, which covered almost everything about social impact. Apart from teaching me the terminologies, it made me realize I didn’t have to invent many things. It enlightened me on the plethora of activities already happening around the world, and motivated me to join the movement.
Dani: What motivated you to come to UnLtd Tamil Nadu?
Varatha: When I came back from the US, it was quite difficult to understand what exactly I wanted to do. I started trying to find my place in the social impact world, spoke to a few people and tried a few things. About a year ago I founded ReforMImpact with a few specific objectives in mind. One of the key things was promoting social entrepreneurship among the youth of Tamil Nadu. It wasn’t easy to get things done being alone in a place like Trichy. I spent a lot of time travelling around, meeting people, pitching my ideas and trying to mobilize resources. A year later I had nothing tangible to show for all the work put into it. When I learned of this opportunity at UnLtd Tamil Nadu and saw that they were working with similar objectives, and more resources, it was an easy choice to make. I began work at UnLtd TN about a month ago and I already feel I’m better equipped to address some key challenges I’d been facing earlier and get things done more effectively.
Dani: What are some things that you want to get done at UnLtd Tamil Nadu? Are there some things you would like to improve?
Varatha: I believe Tamil Nadu has vast untapped potential for entrepreneurship in general. The state has a population of 80 million (the same as Germany!), and for me people equals potential. Poverty in Tamil Nadu, though severe, is more discrete than in other parts of India. We need very innovative entrepreneurial thinking to come up with targeted solutions for intervention, hence there is a clear need for high quality social entrepreneurship. I think UnLtd Tamil Nadu, being one of the first socent incubators in the state, is well positioned to take on a leadership role in promoting social entrepreneurship in Tamil Nadu and, thanks to our location, Puducherry too.
I’m determined to established UnLtd Tamil Nadu as a key player in the state, primarily through incubation by selecting some of the very best entrepreneurs and supporting 12-15 of them per year, and additionally by promoting awareness across the state, particularly among the youth, creating opportunities for action, and thereby enabling a healthy and active ecosystem for social entrepreneurship to thrive.