Village Venture

Social entrepreneur Nishant Banore earns money by spreading happiness in villages. He talks to Prachi Rege about his unique venture.

Social entrepreneur Nishant Banore earns money by spreading happiness in villages. He talks to Prachi Rege about his unique venture.

His office in a Mumbai suburb is a veritable beehive of activities as young men and women discuss matters of importance while poring over their laptops. The words “war room” inscribed on a white board in the meeting room and a couple of pointers below it, aptly reflects the busy mood of the day.

"We just finished a three-hour marathon meet on how to help farmers price their produce profitably," says Nishant Banore, 29, co-founder of Desta, a for-profit, for-impact organisation that sells income producing and cost saving products and services to villages. It currently offers sales services for agriculture supplies and markets health, finance and education services.

Desta means `happiness` in Egyptian language and that`s exactly what Banore wants to spread through his venture. "I like to be aware of problems and solve them," says the young social entrepreneur, who has co-founded the company with US-based entrepreneurs and investors Ron and Marlys Boehm.

Ask the computer science graduate from VJTI why didn`t he go for a corporate job? "I am passionate about my venture,” Banore reflects, “I feel richer and satisfied both personally and professionally." "A job that took 15 hours of my day would not have helped me evolve and grow."

An alumnus of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Banore and his team of 35 members, have trained a strong sales force of 300 village managers in 15 districts of Northern and Western Maharashtra. The managers help in convincing farmers to avail of the products and services of Desta`s clients. "The sales managers are residents of the villages and have a strong influence on the farmers," says the 29 year old.

Banore bumped into Boehm at a conference held at the ISB campus a couple of years ago. The two bonded on the idea of setting up a social venture. After graduation, Banore decided to tour villages across India to identify problems that would help him develop a business model.

"I observed that a number of initiatives in the rural areas like the Piramal Group`s preventive healthcare project in Rajasthan or NGO initiatives like providing solar power lamps, education solutions or drip irrigation services, did not have enough takers," he explains. Absence of a proper marketing strategy, according to him, was the primary reason for this. The premise set the tone for the genesis of Desta.

Banore and the Boehms had to battle a few hurdles before launching their project. A pilot project, which they started in Wardha, a district in Maharashtra, to test the idea flopped. "We couldn’t reach out to the villagers,” he says, adding that the traditional mindset of the villagers made it difficult to break the ice. Secondly, the youngsters appointed to market their products in villages, didn’t perform. “Our choice was wrong so we decided to bring on board agriculture product store owners, leader and other influential people in the village to connect with the farmers.”

The challenge of handling the opaque business environment in rural areas is still there. The cost of reaching out to remote areas is huge and connecting with people is time consuming. “But we have deal with it.”

Banore`s venture has a long way to go. He has many plans to be executed in the coming years. End 2015, he would have entered 50 district and with a 10,000 strong network of village managers. “We are working towards increasing the income of two million households," he signs off passionately.

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