The Hubballi Diaries: Vincent-Luc returns to India

February 7, 2018 | by: Heather Boyd-Kinnie

This is the first of several stories that will highlight the experiences of this year’s trip to The Deshpande Foundation’s Hubballi Sandbox.

Written by Tiziana Zevallos

In late January, the Pond-Deshpande Centre (PDC) engaged in its sixth annual trip to India. This provided the opportunity for eight participants from our various programs to visit our sister center at The Deshpande Foundation’s Hubballi Sandbox.

The Deshpande Foundation is a non-governmental organization founded in 1996 by Dr. Gururaj and Jaishree Deshpande, who are also co-founders (along with Gerry Pond) of the Pond-Deshpande Centre in New Brunswick Canada. 

In India, the Hubballi Sandbox ecosystem was created with an aim to provide a nurturing environment that can foster social innovation and entrepreneurship. Here, the Foundation works to accelerate the creation of sustainable and scalable social enterprises at the grassroots level to empower the rural poor to bring positive changes in their community. 

Vincent-Luc Brouillard, Research Coordinator at the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network (NBSPRN) and PDC Student Ambassador Program (SAP) Alumnus, was the Team Leader throughout the trip. This was his second visit to The Sandbox ecosystem.

Four years ago, Vincent-Luc was encouraged by a professor to apply to the PDC Student Ambassador Program. Without knowing, he found just what he was looking for at the Pond-Deshpande Centre.

“It was creating businesses but still being responsible and sustainable at the same time,” he said.  “To be completely honest, that the PDC was a perfect fit for the needs I had at that time. It almost feels as if someone was planning to make an organization that could directly help me out. And the PDC was it.”

In 2015, Vincent-Luc was selected as one of the 25 SAP ambassadors in the 2013-2014 student-cohort to attend the annual India trip.

After two days of air travel and a four-hour drive from the airport to Hubballi, Vincent-Luc stepped out the bus onto orangey-bronze soil. He immediately noticed palm trees stood tall around him instead of pine trees, a clear sign he was no longer in New Brunswick.

“Just driving from the Airport to Hubballi….changed my life,” he said.

The cars heading into the same direction felt almost like a flowing river, where there was no competition: no one was trying to go faster or ahead of anyone else. And if some needed to head-out, they would do so naturally, without disrupting the flow.    

“It sounds weird, but for me it was symbolic. It was like we’re all heading into a direction together. There’s no rush, we’re all going to get there eventually,” he said.

For Vincent-Luc, that first encounter with the city traffic captured what it means to be an entrepreneur in India, the importance of social entrepreneurship and why we need more of it in every society.

“It’s a collective goal to improve and impact their day to day lives,” he said. “It was nice to see that people were more connected in a certain way and that they were coming together to solve social problems.”

As part of the trip, the group learned about a farmer who received business mentorship and funding from one of the Deshpande Foundation programs. The farmer used this to dig a well so he and neighbouring farmers could have readily access to water for watering their crops year-round.

It was a minor addition that had immense repercussions in a community that experiences crop production challenges due to droughts.

In a year, the farmers collective had earned back the money they spent on building the well. The harvest surplus allowed for the farmers to send their children to school and engage in diversifying their business initiatives.

“These small little things made me realize that when you sit down with the user, and really understand their needs and their problems, you come up with better solutions,” said Vincent-Luc.

With over 60 startups created within The Hubballi Sandbox ecosystem, Vincent-Luc said it’s hard to determine which was the social enterprise or the entrepreneur that had the most impact on him, as each one of their stories created a different inspirational moment.

But “one of the most amazing stories was about a mid-day meal program that provides a meal to every child across 13,000 government or government-aided schools. The network feeds 1.6 million children every day and strives to combat hunger and malnutrition with the goal of bringing children back to the school,” he said.

He felt as if social entrepreneurship is the only type of entrepreneurship there is in Hubballi, because what’s important to them at the end of the day is to make conscious business decisions to build up their community.

“It was really nice to see everyone coming together, the community, the religious institutions, the government and the private businesses, mobilizing together for a cause.”

Vincent-Luc’s biggest takeaway from the trip is that we are all connected. “We tend to put up these barriers between each other, whether its language, race, religion, or just even province or field of work, but at the end of the day, we’re all collectively working to make better societies or communities for ourselves,” he said.

“The reason why I had been chosen to go to India by the PDC is because I would be able to take something from there and bring it back here.”

As an Acadian entrepreneur, Vincent-Luc is working to build bridges between the two language communities in the Maritimes. He hopes that by helping francophone communities develop programming to support businesses or social ventures, connectivity will soar and have a positive impact in the province.

Returning to India after four years, Vincent-Luc looked forward to being able to provide context and perspective to the group of entrepreneurs travelling to The Hubballi Sandbox ecosystem for the first time.

Vincent-Luc is certain that the best way to approach this trip is to mentally step out of your comfort zone. “Have an open mind, and instead of seeing things being different and criticizing them, try to accept them and look to understand why things are the way they are. Take a research approach, respect the problem and learn from it,” he said.

Traveling alongside Vincent-Luc were 2017-2018 PDC Student Ambassadors Jimy Beltran (Venezuela 180), Victoria Fowler and Jillian Lamb, B4C entrepreneurs Jessica Newman (The Everyday Weekend) and Erin Flood (also a PDC ChangeMaker) (GoDo), NouLab participants Heather Keats and Kathy Whynot, as well as NBSPRN Director of Strategic Partnerships, Bill MacKenzie.

Stay tuned! In the coming weeks, The Hubballi Diaries will share Vincent-Luc’s reflection on the 2018 trip as well as stories from our other travellers.

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