Be Unreasonable, Change the World, Enroll Now–with The Unreasonable Institute’s Teju Ravilochan

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable persists in adapting the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. –George Bernard Shaw

After talking with social entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced in building their businesses, I invited Teju Ravilochan to Cause Capitalism to share his vision for an organization that trains and mentors social entrepreneurs. But since Teju is a social entrepreneur himself, he can’t help but turn his vision into something real. With three friends from college Teju founded The Unreasonable Institute to develop the next generation of changemakers.

The Unreasonable Institute was inspired by the co-founders’ own failed social ventures. In their early 20s, they lacked credibility, experience, mentorship and access to capital, but not the passion, education and ideas, to create a successful business.  The irony of it is that they are still young. They aren’t drawing on a career’s worth of experience or network. Instead, they’re using their commitment to help others to connect to leaders and teachers in social enterprise. Teju talks about the new social enterprise he’s building, who’s purpose is to help other young entrepreneurs help the world.  Click the player below to listen or right-click and save for the MP3.

About the Unreasonable Institute
The program brings 25 young entrepreneurs together for 10 weeks to learn from experts and leaders  in social enterprise. At the end of the summer institute, they pitch their projects to social investors and philanthropists. Nearly 300 applicants from 45 countries applied. Thirty-three were selected to enter the online marketplace to fundraise the $6,500 program fee (you can’t pay your own way; the public votes for the best 25 ideas through fundraising contributions).

Criteria for social ventures are that each is financially self-sustaining, can meet social needs, can scale outside its country of origin in three years, and can reach 1 million people.

Highlights from our conversation

  • The Unreasonable Institute was inspired by Y-Combinator and TechStars. TechStars shared their observations on entrepreneurial red flags with Teju and his co-founders. “Ego” was the biggest red flag. A key trait in successful entrepreneurs is an individual who can learn from anyone.
  • “We had the luxury of knowing nothing. It turned out to be an advantage because it pushed us to relentlessly question people who knew what we didn’t,” says Teju.
  • Begin by listening. “Treat them like they’re the messiah when you’re listening to them. Most people have so much to share, it can be a challenge to contain your curiosity.”
  • The founders are committed to meet their own criterium to become financially self-sustaining in 1 year (summer 2010 will be the first institute, although the idea’s been in development since 2008).
  • The marketplace selection system (based on Kickstarter’s platform) pushes applicants to prove their mettle as entrepreneurs by mobilizing supporters around their idea and raising micro-contributions (think: asking an applicant for a sales position to sell you something).
  • The online marketplace launched too early. The technology wasn’t sharp enough and fundraising pledges kept dropping. Eventually, the founders had to take the site down and publicly explain and apologize for the failure. Ultimately, this experience won them more support and pushed the needle on their relentlessness. “One of the entrepreneurs even sent us a poem he uses to keep going when he feels overwhelmed by the work,” says Teju.
  • Assessment is critical. The Unreasonable Institute will measure its efficacy and impact by comparing the work of institute graduates with the 12 finalists who didn’t attend the institute. They’ve partnered with a professor and team of Ph.D. students to do the assessment.

Take a look at the incredibly smart and creative ideas in the marketplace, from a rickshaw bank to nonprofit toilet paper (yup) to a cooperative housing development project for the urban poor.

Tell the Unreasonable Institute what you think on Twitter at @BeUnreasonable. They’re great at chatting back.

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Leave a comment
  1. Giang Biscan March 4, 2010 at 4:46 am #

    You are asking great questions, Olivia. You really brought out the questions and challenges that social entrepreneurs have and Teju’s answers are very helpful.

    I love the selection process that the Unreasonable Institute uses for 2 reasons: it emphasizes action and it is structured to require the selected startups to get many people behind them. A very clever idea and it really aligns with their mission of getting the scale needed for social impact.

  2. admin March 4, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Giang, I agree. They’ve really created a model that reflects how they see business and the world. I admire how thought-out their processes are as well.

    Thanks for your comment–I’m glad you enjoyed the conversation!