"Social Entrepreneurship and Technological Integration are the Vision and Way Ahead for a Better World"
-Dhairya Pujara,Founder CEO of Ycenter
"Designing and Delivering Successful Global Programs are Possible Only via Cross-Cultural Respect and Empathy"

Intro: This week on Socio-economic Voices, Dhairya Pujara, Founder CEO of Ycenter recently had an intense interaction with senior journalist Mahima Sharma of Indiastat to discuss his experience designing and delivering programs for clients in various countries. In the interview, the global social entrepreneur who is also a board member at the Social Enterprise Alliance USA discusses the biggest challenges facing the global socio-economic arena. He answers how businesses and individuals can work to address them, particularly in the context of promoting sustainable development goals and the use of innovative technology. Read on to discover his unique perspective on important topics like how entrepreneurs can navigate cultural, economic, and geographical differences to ensure successful outcomes, as well as his vision for the future of social entrepreneurship in India and abroad.

MS: Can you tell us about your experience designing and delivering programs for clients in various countries? How must a future entrepreneur navigate cultural, economic and geographical differences to ensure successful outcomes?

DP: Having worked in 30+ countries across 5 continents, I have come to learn that the core value an entrepreneur needs to have is “Empathy and respect”. Corporate programs or university programs, don’t matter, as long as we respect people’s cultures rather than imposing our own, we are able to collaborate despite language and other barriers. From working in West Africa on French workshops to Portuguese in Mozambique to Hindi in India to English in the US, it is essential to have local people be a part of the project. Not only does it help to navigate the differences but also brings valuable insights into ethnographic understanding.

MS: As a board member at the Social Enterprise Alliance USA, what is your vision for the future of social entrepreneurship in India as well as abroad?

DP: Quality of education, access to healthcare, the impact of climate change, gender inequality - these are some of the universal issues suffered by people from all economies and building programs to tackle these complex problems allows us to flexibly work with people from multiple countries. Specifically discussing the future of Social Entrepreneurship in India, I believe we need to engage Youth in building businesses around societal impact. I have seen some confusion around Charity and Philanthropy confused with Social Entrepreneurship, for some people in India. But that is not accurate. We need to clearly understand that Entrepreneurship is about solving complex problems through an Enterprise model and the social part is about creating an intentional and direct impact on people’s lives. From cooperative models inspired by Amul in India to B-corp in the west, there are several models and trends to be inspired from. Mixing business with impact is not only a “CAN DO” thing anymore, it is a “MUST DO”, especially for easing the social and economic challenges that deepened because of the pandemic.

MS: What are the biggest challenges you see in the global socio-economic arena, and how can businesses and individuals work to address them?

DP: The biggest challenges still remain that of income inequality, lack of equitable access to technological tools and rapid spread of misinformation. Outcome-based economy (read GDP) mis-appropriately measures production, leaving out health, wellness, sustainability and the cost that citizens pay to get there. We need a more holistic approach to redesign our socio-economic models that fit modern challenges and that can include the use of technology for the betterment of people. The internet revolution of the 90s and the cell phone revolution of the last 2 decades created amazing opportunities for people around the world. Now we need to start working on AI and the renewable energy revolution and bring more people into the mix, right from education to building products/services with these technological integrations.

MS: How can India work better towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals impacting socio-economic development, particularly in the context of addressing last-mile energy access and promoting green finance in underdeveloped regions?

DP: Renewable energy is a perfect example of technology used for good. However, the initial capital expenditure for setting up and running these projects can be very detrimental to many emerging markets. And the biggest challenge, like most technological advancements, is how we can reach rural communities. Inspired by Melinda Gates's TED talk on what not-for-profits can learn from Coca-Cola, the rhetorical question to think about is if Coke can reach the remotest parts of a country, why can’t basics like healthcare, education, clean water and sanitation? I got an opportunity to work alongside a leadership team in the field of decentralized and distributed solar projects that focuses on rural farmers in India, who benefit from getting access to on-demand power. The energy distribution like any other commodity first caters to the highest paying agency - corporates and then SMEs and what’s little left of it - called the “residual energy” goes to the farmer, pushing them further into darkness (pun intended) and economic disparity. The model of decentralization and distribution is not only applicable to energy but to any resources and it has high potential if deployed correctly, to help entrepreneurs address the UN SDGs head-on.

MS: In your opinion, how can innovative tech like AI and more help businesses and corporations in promoting social and environmental sustainability?

DP: Despite being an Engineer, I am a firm believer that technologies do not solve problems, people do. The biggest focus of AI and breakthrough technologies like blockchain (distributed computing!) is exponentially increasing our knowledge output. Companies can use this to sell fun but silly photo filters. They can also use this to map and predict the wastage of the resources in manufacturing and create a proactive plan for optimisation and reduce harmful environmental impact. Just like any other technology, there is always a risk of abuse and overuse, and to avoid that we need business leaders to work with policymakers in safeguarding people’s rights and data. Without these public-private frameworks, these technological tools may further perpetuate inequalities despite their potential to do exactly the opposite.

MS: With the increasing importance of technology and digitalization in the global economy, what opportunities and challenges do you see for businesses and workers in this new era?

DP: Upskilling, reskilling and building programs that allow people to get hands-on with new technologies is extremely urgent. For us to continue the optimism around the potential of these technologies, we need more people to be exposed to it. Learning how to use AI is not anymore a “Future of Work” skill, it is here and not learning it can push people out of actively participating in the knowledge economy. In a recent interview, an American university professor, AI is not going to replace people’s jobs, it's going to help them do it better, “IF” they learn how to use it. It will replace the job of a copywriter with another copywriter who uses AI. So embracing these technologies right from curriculum to skill development for workers, is going to rapidly accelerate the adoption.

MS: As the curator for Global Shaper, what have you learned about the key economic challenges and opportunities facing young people today, and how can businesses and governments better support the next generation?

DP: I had the opportunity to be a Global Shaper and a Curator of the hub in Philadelphia. The most valuable experience was the opportunity to get a seat at the table with world leaders at The World Economic Forum. That made me realize how important it is for governments and businesses to invite ACTIVE PARTICIPATION from the younger generation. They are at the forefront of using the latest tech, they are more aware of climate change, and they are more diligent about their consumption pattern, we better get them involved earlier than later to define policies and maybe even run governments. We have a lot of Tech Entrepreneurship, Social Entrepreneurship, but maybe there is a need for Political Entrepreneurship as well.

MS: According to you, is the speedier access and application of AI a threat to more jobs? If yes, how can businesses balance innovation with ethical considerations?

DP: As I mentioned earlier, the application of AI is not a threat to jobs, but an enhancement tool for getting the job done faster and more efficiently. The big “However” here is, our ability to rapidly skill people and build policies protecting people’s rights. Like any other breakthrough technology, there are moral and ethical dilemmas that need careful consideration. Right from AI models using other artists’/creators’ work without permission for training to the risk of exposing sensitive medical records in the name of personalized medicine, we need faster responses to balance these innovations with a tighter moral framework around their usage to avoid labelling these technologies as our enemy, in fact, when they are/can be quite the opposite.

The key ethical considerations are biases because of using highly specific datasets and another issue is breaching the privacy of data without consent by justifying a greater purpose. Businesses cannot wait for governments to act upon it, but instead, use this unique opportunity to co-create and co-shape an ethics framework on the usage of AI. Creating a value guide or globally standardized framework inspired by Fair-trade Coffee, Organic Food labelling and equivalent compliance frameworks, there is a clear opportunity to build “An Ethical AI guide” for the world.

MS: How can businesses and organizations better incorporate principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their economic and innovation strategies, and what benefits do you see from doing so?

DP: Diversity, equity and inclusion for starters should not be seen as forced mandates but as intelligent business requirements. Most companies in the world today cater to people with extremely diverse backgrounds in terms of nationalities, languages, cultures or even perceptions. The way to build scalable products and services is to have all voices in your boardroom to your manufacturing floor. This allows you to avoid the expensive mistakes of going to market and finding out what you have built is only accepted by a limited number of people but you completely missed the perspective of the other 90% of your potential market. For example - getting people in your office who are raising young kids, will allow your HR team to understand the importance of childcare and flexible work hours, a big issue in developed countries where more women are forced out of the workforce because of childcare burden among other factors.

MS: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in their communities and the world?

DP: Start with working in your backyard. Focus on a problem and not on the technology or the solution. The point is not to make an app to do something. Instead find a problem that is obsessed with solving and then go and find the technology, which is just a medium, that can be used to solve the problem. And when it comes to the communities, stop solving problems for the people and Start doing it with them.

MS: How do you envision Y-center's role in shaping the future of experiential learning and innovation consulting on a global scale (say over the next 10 years) ?

DP: We are continuing to build a value-driven business at Ycenter that focuses on complex problem-solving. This allows us to work with governments in Africa Fortune 500 businesses in the US to work with food tech entrepreneurs in India. Our biggest focus over the next 10 years is creating a global platform for driving social and business impact and the way to do that will be working hands-on with people from all backgrounds and integrating the latest technology wherever and whenever required and not just because it exists.

About Dhairya Pujara

Dhairya has led Ycenter in Inc Magazine's Best in Business 2022 list in the US. After graduating and attaining a Masters, Dhairya lived in a remote village in Africa working on healthcare improvement, which led him to launch Ycenter. Since 2014, he has worked with Fortune 500 companies, governments and startups across 5 continents in 30+ countries. He has received prestigious invitations from the UN, WorldBank, TEDx, SXSW and top business schools such as Stanford & Wharton. For his work in the field of business and tech, Dhairya has received an EB1 status from the US government - a visa reserved for "Individuals of Extraordinary abilities".

About the Interviewer

Mahima Sharma is a Senior Journalist based in Delhi NCR. She has been in the field of TV, Print & Online Journalism since 2005 and previously an additional three years in the allied media. In her span of work she has been associated with CNN-News18, ANI - Asian News International (A collaboration with Reuters), Voice of India, Hindustan Times and various other top media brands of their times. In recent times, she has diversified her work as a Digital Media Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist as well. Since March 2022, she is also an Entrepreneurship Education Mentor at Women Will - An Entrepreneurship Program by Google in Collaboration with SHEROES. Mahima can be reached at

Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the interviewed protagonist. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist and the opinions appearing in the answers do not reflect the views of Indiastat or the Journalist. Indiastat or the Journalist do not hold any responsibility or liability for the same.

indiastat.comMarch, 2023
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