A Critical Inquiry about Caste, Networking and Education
On Republic Day, 2013, two billionaires, Kalpana Saroj and Milind Kamble, members of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce (DICCI) featured among the Padma awardees. “The award was less a celebration of material wealth and more one of human triumph over adversity as these two awardees overcame lives of crushing poverty and marginalization, and achieved unprecedented success against all odds” (Deshpande & Sharm 2). The DICCI’s push for entrepreneurship is anchored on the belief that “Dalit Capitalism” will help Dalits rise to the top of the social pyramid, and pave way for the end of the caste system. (Deshpande & Sharma 3).
Entrepreneurship promotion as an idea and an element of economic policy has gained significant currency in the last two decades because of its capacity to convert job seekers into job creators and spur dynamism and innovation in the economy. In a country like India, it is all the more significant because of the share of the MSME and unorganised sector in job creation and GDP. The definition of Entrepreneurship is “no more confined to the economic sphere but also practiced within the discourse of other social sciences such as psychology, sociology, economics, history and anthropology” (Paltasingh 5). It can, therefore not only lead to economic prosperity but add value to other interests like social justice, environmental sustainability, general well-being, health and education. Entrepreneurship is also widely believed to hold the potential to circumvent the disadvantages imposed by social barriers like caste, race and gender. However, this belief hinges on empirical observations and the assumption that discriminatory tendencies characterising labour markets are somehow absent from other markets such as land and credit, which are critical to the success of entrepreneurial activities (Deshpande & Sharma 3). More importantly it assumes that young people in the country are being adequately prepared for the challenges of Entrepreneurship by our education system at various stages. Whether this assumption is accurate is worth investigation.
In order to investigate this however, we need to understand what kind of knowledge, skills and experiences can be imparted by formal education to a child to prepare her for undertaking entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship as per most definitions involves creation of something unique and novel that is of value to the economy, state or an organisation. A narrower, economic definition involves setting up new businesses and therefore involves considerable innovation, risk taking and effective management of resources. The bookish learning that is typical of school education does not prepare future entrepreneurs for this as it requires them to understand the ground reality closely and come up with practical solutions. As Tattwamasi Paltasingh explains in his paper Entrepreneurship Education and the Culture of Enterprise, “learning shouldn’t be passive and should be accompanied by active problem solving and innovative out of the box solutions” (4). Education has been traditionally viewed as rote accumulation of knowledge but this approach won’t work for entrepreneurship education especially in the economically, culturally and technologically dynamic environment of today. Here what is learnt can rapidly become obsolete which creates a need for the entrepreneur to treat learning as a lifelong process and stay updated with changing times. Since most important lessons are learnt from experience, entrepreneurship also requires experiential learning. As much as the course material and training is important, the learning environment is also important. Parents, family and the community as a whole can encourage and foster the spirit of entrepreneurship in the child. Entrepreneurship being introduced as a field of study can also legitimize it as a career for young people in the minds of parents, society and policy makers. Easily identifiable skills that most entrepreneurs require are “resource mobilization, innovation, observation, management, risk assessment, team building and so on” (Paltasingh 6).
It has always been debated if Entrepreneurship can be taught, and whether the potential to undertake it is inborn. However the recognition of the positive effects of boosting entrepreneurial activity on the economy as a whole has led policy makers to try and use education to develop the spirit and skills required for successful entrepreneurship. “CBSE has introduced Entrepreneurship as a subject in the curriculum for class XI in the academic year 2001-02 and for class XII in March 2003” (Paltasingh 8). Paltasingh claims that “the curriculum is designed in a manner that can reflect the needs and aspirations of young learners in the changing socio-economic context” (Paltasingh 8). The course aims at developing leadership quality, self-confidence, creativity, commitment, team building and taking initiative to start one’s own venture. In the domain of higher education, as Albornoz (2013) points out, “the structure and content of the course is often faculty driven and is primarily aimed at the twin objectives of increasing the awareness of entrepreneurship as a career option and developing the understanding of the process of creating new business”. Rituparna Basu adopted a case based qualitative approach to evaluate the nature and effectiveness of Entrepreneurial Education in India’s higher education space, particularly B-Schools. The methodology adopted was in-depth interviews with academic deans of ten reputed business schools in India including IIMs to evaluate two parameters:
- How entrepreneurship is integrated in the business school curricula of the top business schools in India
- The popularity of entrepreneurship as a field of study among students in Indian business schools
The finding was that Business Schools in India mostly offered Entrepreneurship as an elective course and it was preferred as an elective by around 15% students. Overall she observed that limitations included lack of trained faculty, short term focus on results and a limitation of pedagogy. There was also a lack of institutionalization and perception of the subject as non-core by the institutes. Mutsuddi has pointed out how even in top business schools with Entrepreneurship cells the pedagogic framework is far from satisfactory. It is necessary to impart “relevant knowledge on related socio-political governance, infrastructure, unorganized competition, chronic shortages, or sensitivity to local culture” (Bhardwaj & Sushil, 2012).
Notwithstanding the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of entrepreneurial education, there is also a dearth of inspiration and awareness at school level in order to encourage and inspire children to consider entrepreneurship as a career stream. Also as Paltasingh pointed out his paper, it is not just education but a conducive environment that nurtures entrepreneurship. Many budding entrepreneurs are unaware of the means to raise capital for their venture. They also lack the networks necessary for setting up and growing their ventures. This lack of information, access to credit, resources and network are also skewed on the basis of social markers like caste and gender. As Iyer, Khanna and Varshney found in their paper Caste and Entrepreneurship in India Dalit Entrepreneurs faced a marked disadvantage in terms of the size of enterprises they set up, access to credit and their ability to hire from outside their family which limited their ability to grow. They may also have faced the lack of networks and quality education. As G.N Ramu explains in his paper on the role of Kinship in Entrepreneurship, certain social groups like Marwaris enjoyed an advantage in the ability to set up and expand businesses due to expertise accumulated over generations, networks and inheritance norms that discouraged liquidation of assets.
We already discussed how entrepreneurship holds the potential to spur innovation, economic growth and employment in developing economies like India. It is therefore of paramount importance that policy makers, governments and industry take measures to bridge this gap and promote entrepreneurship among socially disadvantaged sections as well. The central government is attempting to do this under the Stand Up India scheme, among others. In a statement given to Economic Times in 2016, at the 5th National Industrial and Trade Fair organised by the DICCI, the then Union minister for MSME Kalraj Mishra said, “Under the Stand Up India scheme, each of the 1.25 lakh bank branches would be encouraged to fund a SC/ST and woman entrepreneur to create 2.5 lakh entrepreneurs in the country”. Further as many as 292 PSUs in India have been mandated to procure 20 per cent of their requirements from MSME sector. Of this, 4 per cent has to be from Dalit enterprises, which translates into a sizeable market. As regards the impact of Government schemes, the level of awareness of SC entrepreneurs is very poor. A little below half of them are aware of banking facilities for SCs, about 22% about SC-friendly policies of the Government and less than even 2% about training programmes. Moreover, these schemes are underutilized due to inadequate budget allocation and poor implementation by states (Research study sponsored by the Planning commission).
Entrepreneurship holds the potential to bridge social inequities in employment only if when assisted by concerted structural changes and targeted removal of educational, financial and networking disadvantages. This requires a fair allocation of budgetary resources and a simultaneous revamping of the economy by creation of infrastructure, education, skilling and promotion of ease of doing business that would accelerate job creation in general.
Further as Paltasingh points out entrepreneurship education need not be restricted to higher education. Interest and aptitude can be inculcated at the primary education level itself by using storytelling about success stories of entrepreneurs and imparting conceptual clarity on the idea and potential of entrepreneurship. This will also encourage students to be innovative and out of the box thinkers in other pursuits and become better problem solvers. Problem solving and experiential learning exercises can be introduced at schools with a vocational focus at secondary level along with existing core subjects. As the government makes a concerted push to boost entrepreneurship in the country, it will make no sense if the education system falls behind and fails to equip the future citizens in this endeavour.
- Albornoz Pardo, Carlos. “Is business creation the mean or the end of entrepreneurship education?: a multiple case study exploring teaching goals in entrepreneurship education.” Journal of technology management & innovation 8.1 (2013): 1-10.
- Basu, Rituparna. “Entrepreneurship education in India: A critical assessment and a proposed framework.” Technology Innovation Management Review 4.8 (2014).
- Bhardwaj, B.R. and Sushil, (2012), “Internal environment for corporate entrepreneurship: Assessing CEAI model for emerging economies”, Journal of Chinese Entrepreneurship, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 70-87. https://doi.org/10.1108/17561391211200948
- Deshpande, Ashwini, and Smriti Sharma. “Entrepreneurship or survival? Caste and gender of small business in India.” Economic and Political Weekly (2013): 38-49.
- Iyer, Lakshmi, Tarun Khanna, and Ashutosh Varshney. “Caste and entrepreneurship in India.” Economic and Political Weekly (2013): 52-60.
- Mutsuddi, Indranil. “Relevance of Entrepreneurship Cells in Technical Institutes and Business Schools.” IUP Journal of Entrepreneurship Development 9.3 (2012).
- Paltasingh, Tattwamasi. “Entrepreneurship education & culture of enterprise: Relevance & policy issues.” Indian Journal of Industrial Relations (2012): 233-246.
- Planning Commission of India. (2007). A Research Study On Entrepreneurial Challenges For SC Persons In India. New Delhi.
- Ramu, G. N. “Kinship structure and entrepreneurship: an Indian case.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 17.2 (1986): 173-184.
- The Economic Times. “Government to create 2.5 lakh Dalit entrepreneurs under ‘Stand Up India” The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/government-to-create-2-5-lakh-dalit-entrepreneurs-under-stand-up-india/articleshow/51551405.cms?from=mdr. Accessed 18th July 2020.
Ashwin Sreekumar is an Electrical Engineer by profession, who had a change of heart and decided to pursue civil services preparation due to his interest in policy, governance and economics which led him to be selected for the Young India Fellowship in 2019. He seeks to use his writing, creative and managerial skills to create positive change in the social development sector through innovative interventions and ventures. In his free time he can be found reading about military history or pencil sketching.