Naveen Jain: Entrepreneur, philanthropist and TEDxUNPlaza speaker

Naveen Jain

“It took us 250 thousand years to reach a population of one billion people on planet Earth. And this was in the early 1800s. It took us another 125 years before we reached two billion people. And less than one hundred years later, we stand as a planet of more than seven billion individuals. How will our planet, with its limited space and resources, support so many people? This is just one question everybody is asking.”

Naveen Jain, entrepreneur and philanthropist and TEDxUNPlaza speaker is currently focused on finding ways to use advances in science to solve some of the problems that, on the surface, look like infrastructure problems but that he believes are in fact, information-gap problems. The World Innovation Institute is the platform he created for people to come together to solve the actual problems, and is a platform for people to share ideas.

“There is a lot of fundamental change that we are seeing in our society today that has never existed before. I believe that this is a confluence of many dynamics. Some years ago, people enjoyed the wealth they created throughout their lives in their 70s or 80s. Today, those fortunate enough to be considered well-off create substantive wealth earlier and can enjoy it in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There is an opportunity here for great giving with tremendous social purpose. People adapt their skills not only professionally but to also solve grand social problems. The opportunity for vast communication has also become abundant. People today have access to more than just cell phones. Billions of people have gone from consumers of information to producers of ideas. There is a fundamental shift happening, and it translates into one thing: opportunity,” he says.

How would you describe the shift of a more entrepreneurial approach of philanthropy in practice?

NJ: The whole thing is about viewing philanthropy from an entrepreneur’s perspective. The reason why so many of today’s grand challenges do not get solved is because they are perceived as philanthropic problems and not entrepreneurial opportunities. It is the mindset of an entrepreneur that changes the way these philanthropies are managed, in order to make them not only scalable but also sustainable. Most philanthropists today tend to do solve finite infrastructure problems, like building a school or fixing a hospital, which likely don’t scale nor address the larger need.

“I think the fundamental problem with our society is that it has a divided itself in doing good in a separate industry and doing well in a separate industry. Doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive.”

NJ: From an entrepreneur’s perspective, you cannot create a growing business, nor a sustainable business, nor a billion dollar business, unless you solve a grand, 10 billion dollar problem. It so happens that these ten billion opportunities generally lie squarely in solving large social issues. Scalability is one of the two parts of the puzzle, the other one is sustainability. You cannot sustain a business by constantly asking for money. It is only a matter of time that the VC, or in this case, the donor gets tired, right? So, the only way to make a business sustainable is by making it profitable. And the only way you scale a business is by converting the problem that looks at the surface like an infrastructure problem into an information-based opportunity.

On Education And Healthcare

NJ: People think education requires the building of schools and focusing on teacher development. What if this fundamental thinking is wrong? You see, education is about information. The information can be delivered in multiple different ways and does not necessarily require a physical presence. Education today can be delivered through sophisticated online tools and educational gaming applications. Further, what if the whole idea of healthcare diagnostics changed from hospitals and doctors, to using sensors that can diagnose most common diseases? This would fundamentally change the way people think about healthcare. Thinking from this perspective, if you convert the problems that look like infrastructure problems into information gap problems and then make create ventures to solve them from a business model perspective, they become self-sustainable. You may requite initial investment just like any other venture does, but after a while it becomes a self-sustainable and profitable business.

On Sustainability

How would you describe a creative process that leads to sustainability?

NJ: The fact is that most people think of sustainability and conservation as synonymous. So when people talk about sustainability, what they are saying is let’s consume less because we’re going to run out of all the resources that we have, whether it is clean water, energy or almost anything else.

I believe that sustainability has almost nothing to do with conservation. Sustainability comes only from creation. We have to create more of what we need rather than using less than what we have. Think of it this way: as a business, you can never grow by cutting costs. You only grow by increasing revenue.

Almost everything that we start, we start with the mindset of scarcity. For example, there is shortage of food, there is shortage of clean water, there is shortage of energy, there is shortage of almost everything on the planet that we need to sustain a population growing from seven billion to 10 billion people.

What I have learned as an entrepreneur is that we can solve any problem – let me repeat, any problem – through innovation and entrepreneurship. So let’s create more clean water, more energy and more sustainable resources to support our exploding population. We can think about each one of things that I have talked about, and see how innovation and entrepreneurship will solve them.

On Entrepreneurism

NJ: Imagine that we have an abundance of information and abundance of ideas – and what it really takes is an entrepreneurial mindset to go out and do something. That is why I am saying that entrepreneurship and innovation have to come together because otherwise innovation stays only as invention. It is not only about invention, we have to be innovative about making things better and then we have to apply the entrepreneurial mindset to go out and actually solve the problem, not just talk about it.

As our theme is “Brave United in Action”, what would you advise a young person of today?

NJ: Imagination and action – or lack thereof – are the only things that limit you. The advice that I would give to young people is to innovate and then go out and execute based on your incredible ideas.

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