As part of an Impact Interview series, we sat down with LBS alumnus Vikram Jain, Managing Director at FSG Mumbai, to learn about his experience in the social impact sector post-MBA, his views on the role of business as a force for good, and what lessons he would pass on to entrepreneurs in emerging economies.
Recognising what skills we can each contribute to create social impact is crucial
Growing up, Jain was fascinated with computing and how machines could behave like humans: how did they calculate? How were they able to learn and perform increasingly complex tasks? This curiosity led him to a role as a computer scientist, well reputed in coding and eventually took him to Silicon Valley. As Jain grew more senior, his work became less about coding and instruction , and more about client management. He noticed that clients were repeatedly asking how they could automate and re-engineer their business processes and Jain felt that studying for an MBA would assist him to build the necessary management tools to do this effectively. After LBS, Jain joined McKinsey, gaining fundamental learnings in how business worked, how to manage both clients and teams and grow companies, but knew that his desire was to return to India and work in the social sector. Jain likened this to ‘soul-searching’ of sorts: understanding where he thought he could make the most impact required introspection to assess the skills he had accumulated, what he most enjoyed and find a way to weave both of these into a career in social impact. Recognising that his ability to grow and scale businesses was valuable and unique, he saw that if he could help businesses that benefit low-income families grow, he could make a positive social impact through growth of the business alone. He also highlighted how important it is to recognise what aspects of our jobs make us feel the most inspired, citing creativity in coding as what he found fulfilling in his early career and how that adapted over the subsequent years to be helping people and bettering social services.
Jain’s lessons learned to entrepreneurs wanting to work in emerging economies:
Three lessons for entrepreneurs who want to work in the social impact sector:
- Follow your passion
he journey will be rough on the way up through your career regardless, so if you enjoy what you do and follow the topic or industry that is meaningful to you, you will become an expert. Over time, without much subject matter deviation, you can become a knowledge leader in your field – but you have to be invested.
- Commit to lifelong learning
We are continuously learning. Many people focus on their title or promotions – and while these will follow as part of success, each role should be a new opportunity to acquire new skills and learnings.
- Listen and try to understand your team
The ability to hear, understand and motivate people (your teams, clients, colleagues, stakeholders) is pivotal. The single most valuable skill we can have in business is to get behind the skin of an individual and learn how to motivate and guide them.
Developing markets offer entrepreneurs a plethora of opportunities to address gaps in the market and improve efficiencies
Jain works on scaling inclusive business models – if there is a type of business, that when operating at scale creates beneficial social impact, then we need to help them grow. While government is very important in this, business is even more so – a large part of the economy is business, and it has the ability tocontinually provide a product or a service with ever-increasing levels of quality and cheaper costs. The rise of the Internet is one example: the cost of transmitting a byte of information has fallen exponentially as speed has increased. The real challenge is incentivising business to undertake problems where the margins are low or non-existent. In developing countries, there is a huge potential to address gaps in the market and improve efficiencies with more VC money coming in each year. The key to success here is keeping a clear line of sight on your customer’s needs and how you can monetise your business ideas. Without the big budgets of large corporates, finding and nurturing talent is key and these people will be crucial assets for business growth – but you will need to invest heavily in upskilling your workforce. This becomes more difficult for entrepreneurs focused on social impact initiatives in developing markets: first, be clear why you are in this space. Many organisations want to focus on a particular issue or topic because they see a short term opportunity (e.g., public grants) but many social sector issues demand a multi-year approach at the very least to start making an impact, particularly when targeted to low income families.
The Wheeler Institute is uniquely positioned to facilitate knowledge-sharing across geographies
Jain highlights the role of the Wheeler Institute, sharing ideas and learnings for business in emerging markets, seen across geographies, and disseminating these learnings or approaches globally. Despite the huge opportunities cited by the impact sector etc., the reality is that a lot of these impact funds are barely able to return capital: typically, they can make an impact and run at a loss or they can make money but barely scratch the surface and to be both is a huge challenge. Understanding the barriers that prevent firms from growing, and the different solutions or the approaches businesses are taking to address these is a role of the Wheeler Institute – and utilising these learnings to grow awareness and educate leaders is a core benefit of the Institute.
To date, Jain has led the growth of inclusive business models across the housing finance sector and education sectors in India. In housing finance, the work of FSG was instrumental in extending finance to those in the informal economy and without income proof – there are now 22 companies in India lending to those with no income proof, benefiting informal business customers previously locked out of the system. He is now working on two programs. The first program aims to understand interventions in Education, and where business can provide better interventions and improve learning outcomes for children in India. The second program aims to improve Indian women’s participation in the workforce.
Vikram Jain (MBA 2007) is a Managing Director at FSG based in Mumbai. He is passionate about scaling nascent industries that benefit the lives of urban families with low-income. Vikram leverages his 25 years of experience across operations, strategy and technology consulting, and global development to scale industries. Prior to FSG, Vikram worked with Monitor Inclusive Markets (MIM) as the lead of the low-income housing practice. He also worked with McKinsey & Company, Deloitte Consulting and US Interactive. Vikram Jain joined the Wheeler Institute in July for an event with Rajesh Chandy, Kimberley Brown, Manish Sabharwal and John Fairhurst – ‘When business makes a difference: India, Covid-19 and why it matters to us all’. Watch it here.
The interview to Vikram Jain is part of a series of interviews organised by the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development in collaboration with the Recruitment & Admissions Team at London Business School, highlighting the stories of some of our distinguished Alums that pursuit careers driven by impact and purpose. To see more interviews please follow the links below.
Victoria Henderson (MBA 2021) has three years’ experience in management consulting at Bain & Company, and a background in Law and Politics. She is an intern for the Wheeler Institute, contributing to the creation of content that amplifies the role of business in improving lives.