Why not to go to Startingbloc if you are in India

I get quite a few emails about Startingbloc especially from BITS students. Just got three in the past week, so here’s a post outlining my views about it. I should have written this a long time back.

Disclaimer: I was selected for the London program in 2008 but I never attended it. Although I’m still included in their email groups. So I really have no first hand idea about the program and its benefits other than from what I heard from the numerous people I know who’ve attended it.

I didn’t attend the program in 2008 I simply couldn’t afford it. And also because Abhilash wisely said, you can start a non-profit organization with 60-70K INR it would cost to do the program, which would be a lot more educative than a short 3-4 day program could ever hope to be.

Turned out to be a good thing because I later realized it would have added very little value to me.

Here’s why I suspect it’ll add little value to you:

1. It frankly sounds ridiculous that you have to attend a program in the USA to learn about social entrepreneurship when you are already in India. Ashoka has 283 fellows in India compared to 126 in the USA.

2. The money you would spend on traveling there and the effort you would put in to raise that money if you can’t already afford it, would be much better used if you just went ahead and started a non-profit. Every entrepreneur will agree that doing or starting something is the best way to learn.

3. The idea that you’ll benefit from ‘networking’ is a perception. Networking doesn’t mean meeting new people but it means engaging with them in ways valuable to both of you or at least to you. There’s potentially very little you can gain from meeting and hanging out with a primarily American college crowd. You would probably come back talking only about the diversity of the fellows.

4. Meeting or listening to the mostly American speakers speaking about their experiences in American development sector or in Africa is not worth the money. Find these lectures online and these speakers are already accessible on email, just try starting a conversation. Important busy people do reply to email if you show them you are worthy of their time.

5. Its not as selective as you would believe it is. From a reliable source, it was 70% last year. This kind of a walk-in-the-rose-park selectivity will reflect in the quality of participation. I know its kind of a big deal to get selected for a foreign program and you worked for it, but that’s not going to be the case for most of your fellow attendees.

6. There are quite a few conferences and programs in India that could be a great start for you to understand this sector. I suggest reading ThinkChangeIndia and LetMeKnow to find about those. I can vouch Grassroutes.in is pretty cool.

So I suggest you attend the program if:

1. You can afford a nice little holiday in the states. I hear a lot about the parties after the program, Americans are a lot of fun.

2. And you are fishing for resume points. This might help brighten up a bland resume if you are applying for bschools but doesn’t help an already bright resume. But beware most of the stuff that you think helps your resume is probably just perception. I’m not sure if they still have the bschool tie-ups that benefited college students getting into bschools early.

3. Or you are getting a fully funded trip.

Final nugget of wisdom: A four day program can never ever help you achieve your true potential. That’s just not the way humans work. If its motivation you are looking for look around you, closer to home.

4 Responses to “Why not to go to Startingbloc if you are in India”

  1. November 2, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Nayak- Isn’t it true for most conferences our generation dies to attend? Sustainable urban habitat or clinton global initiative or may be even world peace conclave. Why single out StartingBloc? Is it because they charge? BTW, good point abt selectivity 😀

  2. 2 Abhishek
    November 2, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Mostly because too many people ask me about it!
    No idea about the above conferences. I’m not sure if lots of people really attend them!
    My general rule of the thumb is never to attend ones which have the words youth, leadership, etc in the title. Although I’m never going to attend a non-business related one without a hefty charge(that ways I take it seriously and the organizers take it seriously) ever.
    I think you should go to St Gallen’s its the best that’s there for students.

  3. 3 Scott K
    November 12, 2010 at 2:16 am

    While I can’t speak for everyone, as StartingBloc Fellow myself, I’ve found the program to be an uniquely powerful and inspirational experience.

    The StartingBloc Institute brings a richness and intensity exploring the challenges and opportunities in changing the world that I’ve not found anywhere else. It’s about exposure, inspiration, and empowerment — it’s of course silly to suggest one could learn everything there is to know about social enterprise in five days — but the Institute brings a remarkable and diverse group of young leaders together to examine many of the common challenges that we face in trying to “change the world.”

    Considering innovative financing structures, volunteer engagement platforms, or partnership strategies is certainly doable on your own, for example, but having that conversation in a room full of 120+ peers facing similar conundrums in their own ventures leads to exponentially more creative and resilient ideas, solutions, and new ventures.

    While I can’t speak to the specifics of the class profile, in my experience, the global network of now 2,000+ fellows is full of many of the most promising social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and infra-prenuers out there. I’m continually surprised where I run across StartingBloc fellows — whether at a B-school I visit, in an organization I’m partnering with, or at a business where I’m applying for a job.

    And finally, as to the price, I can only say that the only comment I’ve ever heard at the end of an Institute regarding price is that the organization doesn’t charge nearly enough compared to the value that it provides (a feeling that I’ve heard articulated by dozens of fellows).

    StartingBloc is certainly not for everyone, but it’s been extraordinary for me.

  4. 4 Abhishek
    November 12, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Thanks for your comments Scott! I must clarify that this post is targeted at Indian students, who will spend around 2000USD to pay for the program, fly there and get the Visa.

    2000USD is what most Indian students spend on college tuition every year, which will put into perspective how expensive this five day program is.

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