In 2018, the national venture philanthropy organization New Profit brought together pairs of donors and social entrepreneurs from their community for candid conversations on the future of social problem-solving. These "unlikely duos" were given thought-provoking questions to respond to and discuss on the spot, and we were able to see where a conversation can go when it’s centered on getting to know another person and her or his perspective, rather than the technical aspects of change-making. Relationships are fundamental to problem-solving, and these duos show us the power of two people from different backgrounds sharing insights and ideas on forward-leaning solutions.

In Episode One of this video series, philanthropist Venkat Srinivasan (Managing Director, Innospark Ventures) and social entrepreneur Marcus Bullock (CEO, Flikshop) discuss the role of technology to drive social good.

Giving Compass spoke with Srinivasan about the similarities between social entrepreneurship and philanthropy, dealing with adversity and what he learned from his conversation with Bullock.

Venkat Srinivasan is a social entrepreneur, philanthropist and eternal optimist.

Srinivasan grew up lower-middle class in India and credits his optimism to the positive environment created by his parents. However, life wasn’t without challenges and it was those experiences that lead to Srinivasan’s trajectory as a social entrepreneur.

Venkat Srinivasan“Adversity breeds more of a drive in you to solve problems,” Srinivasan said. “If you’re actually able to solve those problems, then I think you become more of an optimist.”

One example of Srinivasan’s solutions-based approach is, a social enterprise he founded with the goal of closing the K-12 literacy gap using AI technology. EnglishHelper is currently used in eight countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. Its largest footprint is in India, where it serves 2.5 million K-12 students. While the company is for-profit, Srinivasan notes that the organization provides the tool for free when users are unable to pay.

“Impact comes before price,” he said. “Purpose is the main objective.”

Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy: 2 Sides of the Same Coin

As a philanthropist, Srinivasan has supported other social entrepreneurs with funding, but he’s also used his own expertise to drive solutions through technology. While the responsibilities are different, he believes social entrepreneurship and philanthropy are very much alike.

“Conventionally we’ve viewed entrepreneurship and philanthropy as two separate things,” Srinivasan said. “At some level they’re two sides of the same coin. In entrepreneurship … you’re creating social value by creating jobs. In that sense, there is an element of philanthropic type of activity although we don’t think of it that way. There is that kind of value that an entrepreneur creates.”

This perspective is a reason why Srinivasan, a New Profit board member, is a proponent for the organization’s venture philanthropy model.

“[New Profit] is advocating the idea of applying the same practices and discipline we apply in the entrepreneurship world to philanthropy,” he said.

It was at a New Profit event that Srinivasan met fellow tech entrepreneur Marcus Bullock, a returning citizen who is seeking to improve lives for incarcerated people. Bullock founded Flikshop -- an app that gives inmates the ability to receive mail from a mobile app -- after he was released from prison. Their discussion centered around technology, collaboration and leadership and while the meeting was brief, Srinivasan was left inspired.

“Marcus was a reinforcement that being an eternal optimist is a good thing,” said Srinivasan. “Given the right circumstances and the right access and the right kind of support, we can bring about change.”