This is part three of ‘Audacious Startups’ series. (Part I Part II). This part profiles Kanika Gupta a social entrepreneur from Toronto, Canada, and features her work through a disruptive start-up that encourages social innovation and engagement through entrepreneurship.
Picture this. Born to Indian emigrants, a Canadian Master’s student in Public Policy turns her thesis into a disruptive force in social entrepreneurship that not only accomplishes something most said is impossible but, while at it, also ends up securing an endorsement for her start-up from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. Pretty, I say. Damn pretty!
A recent Guardian article essayed on the following lessons from Kanika’s journey:
Stay focused on your goals and don’t forget who you are serving
Never underestimate the power of your passion
Share your ideas early
Build your product with the user
Celebrate the journey
In 2010, Kanika wrote her Master’s thesis on social innovation and entrepreneurship. She did not want to reinvent the wheel. Therefore, she embarked on a nation-wide coast-to-coast hunt for what, how, when and why of social entrepreneurship and engagement. Key insights from the thesis led Kanika to conceive a workable model in social activism. Kanika’s experience in domestic and international non-profits, fundraising, micro-finance (in West Africa) and education (UNDP), added credibility to chutzpah, and Ryerson University’s incubatorDigital Media Zone (DMZ) signed up Kanika to support her vision and passion for transforming “ideas for global social change into action”.
The journey started with a blog “Social Journey”. It was (and, I argue, still is) a “one-stop-shop” to get motivation and education in starting “socially geared start-ups . The mantra was in providing accessible information and cultivating open communities. The focus was not on a particular sector, but on good intentions.” The aim was to take “ideas to action” and encourage “community change initiatives”.
In two years, the blog has amassed an impressive array of topics and advice to affect social engagement. The blog evolved into an online resource repository for social entrepreneurs. This was a big step! SOJO followed.
Social Journal evolved into SOJO, a Toronto-based online “provider of tools and resources for social innovators. SOJO is an interactive online platform that empowers individuals to run their ideas for social change into action”. It helps people “take energy off the paper and into reality” by providing “knowledge and support to social innovators – those aiming to create positive social change.
The content curated by SOJO focuses on the practical how-to” of idea development and project execution, and on the personal growth of the individual behind the idea.
SOJO recently launched their website publicly but its work has just begun. However, SOJO is on its way to becoming the “leading online resource that social innovators reference to turn their ideas for social change into action.” It has a UNESCO endorsement commending its “interactive online platform as an opportunity to foster a long term impact in the field of social entrepreneurship…”
London based Ogunte, a Social Innovation Development Organization focused on women, recognized Kanika as a Women Social Leader. Ogunte profiled Kanika for her potential and bigger social impact she has created and has the promise to create. One more feather in the cap for SOJO.
What I find irresistible and audacious is the do-it credo fueling SOJO, the impact it will have on social entrepreneurship, social engagement, and “corporate citizenship”. If start-ups and founders learn one lesson from SOJO, they can create bigger and better products and businesses. The lesson is in what Kanika said:
Our goal was to have the people who were going to be using the tool, build it with us.
SOJO plans to provide a commercial version of their online tool to better engage employees around causes they care about. This, Kanika says, will take corporate social responsibility a notch up and create more engaging workplaces encouraging corporate citizenship. A white-label B2B licensed product for commercial organizations is on the cards.
SOJO’s foray into social governance and advocacy for social entrepreneurship will create bigger impact. In conversation with Kanika, becoming a bridge between grass-root social work and social policy makers came-up as the next natural progression for SOJO. It will be a natural move-up for SOJO in implementing its manifesto to bring action-mindset to social change and impactful social mindedness.
Kanika and her start-up have a compelling story and have received plenty of media attention. It is to be seen how SOJO can up the momentum, increase users, net-in some big-name partners and take its awesomeness places. What SOJO needs now is this: Focusing on the product, leveraging relationships and creating new ones, building tangible results including right media coverage, and forming a right-spirited and a serious advisory board. Kanika’s leadership and the ability to learn and adapt is the make or break factor here.
Past is prologue. I bet SOJO will better what has been seen so far.
It takes a lot of heart to be an audacious change-agent. What turn raw audacity into something meaningful are sharp focus, requisite ability, and intent to create a meaningful impact regardless of inherent roadblocks and the ubiquitous naysayers. As a social entrepreneur that is exactly what Kanika Gupta has in her arsenal.
SOJO is a rock-star social change agent of the future creating change in the present. All the best to a truly audacious startup.