Jeroo Billimoria is one of the social entrepreneurs recently featured in the Ashoka series, #LeadYoung – Great Changemakers Start in Their Youth.
If you have raised a teenager, or been one yourself, you know that teens are experts at arguing. While it is not uncommon to have a disagreement with a teen, for Jeroo Billimoria there is one argument that changed the direction of her life for good.
At the age of 16, Jeroo debated her mother on the best way to help children get through school. Her mother was a social worker in the schools for poor members of the Parsi community. Her mother focused on family and other environmental issues. Jeroo believes in the importance of looking at the data, and the data showed that two topics, math and English, were holding the students back.
Jeroo found a partner to work with; the first Ashoka Fellow, Gloria de Souza. Together, they proved Jeroo’s theory, backed by data, that focusing on math and English could have a significant impact. This early start put Jeroo on a road to social entrepreneurship.
After she graduated from school, she went to the US and worked with the Coalition for the Homeless.
She returned to India where she first worked in rural areas and then in Mumbai. She began working with street kids. These street kids told her, “The social workers are great, but they’re only there from 9 to 5. There’s no one there after that.” So, Jeroo worked with the street kids to develop Childline India. Childline is the country’s first toll-free helpline for street children in distress. “Childline was an idea that emerged from the street kids and it was developed with the street kids.” As of March 2015, a total of 36 million calls have been received by Childline. Today they operate in more than 500 cities and districts across India.
Jeroo began to receive requests from people in other countries who wanted to start a helpline similar to Childline India. Instead of creating a franchise model with all of the complications, she formed a network. Child Helpline International rolled out to 156 countries.
Here are a few other examples of social enterprises that Jeroo has started:
- Jeroo founded Credibility Alliance where they work to build the credibility of the Voluntary Sector.
- She founded Meljol where they develop children’s citizenship skills by focusing on children’s rights and responsibilities and providing them with opportunities to contribute positively to environment using social and financial education tools.
- She founded Aflatoun. Aflatoun educates children and young people about their rights and responsibilities, equips them with skills to save and manage money, and prepares them to set up their own social and financial enterprises. They reach 4 million children per year in 116 countries.
In 2011, Jeroo founded Child and Youth Finance International. They focus on increasing the financial inclusion and finance education for children and youth, so that every child can graduate from primary school with financial education and a saving account they own and operate. In only four years, Child and Youth Finance International has expanded to 132 countries. They are actively working with 60 countries on policy change. They sponsor Global Money Week, which last year reached 10 million children directly and 120 million indirectly.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Jeroo also recently launched Ye!, a global online community of young entrepreneurs.
Lessons Learned from Jeroo Billimoria
Jeroo mentioned four key lessons that have led to her success.
Pay attention to the data.
From that first venture as a sixteen-year-old, she has focused on data. She often presses her staff to focus on what the research is telling them. “What are the numbers? Let’s look at the story the numbers are telling,” she reminds them.
Determining the strategy.
Jeroo prefers to build networks rather than to own all the components. This allows her to scale quickly. She also recognizes her personal strengths and leverages them. She knows that she is good at starting. She hires great team members early who can run the day to day operations. Once the enterprise is successful, she steps away to take on her next venture.
Engage in dialog with all stakeholders.
Keep in mind, each stakeholder has a completely different perspective. She told me, “It’s a dialog, and everyone at the table speaks a different language.”
Hold on to the vision, but be flexible in the implementation.
Jeroo has learned to be flexible. She said, “A river originates in the mountain, and it has to make its way to the sea. That’s your journey. Go around the mountain. Go into the valley. Go this way. Go that way, until you get to your goal.” And yet, with her advice to be flexible, she also encourages early-stage social entrepreneurs to be determined. “Never give up,” she coached.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Jeroo Billimoria
“You choose people who you know from the beginning will have the spirit to continue the organization.”
“What makes a successful social enterprise is not the social entrepreneur. It’s the team with the social entrepreneur.”
“If you really believe in something, go on. Don’t give up.”
“Don’t take yourself too seriously. Life is too short.”
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- Child & Youth Finance International: http://www.childfinanceinternational.org
- Child & Youth Finance International on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/childfinance
- Child & Youth Finance International on Twitter: https://twitter.com/childfinance
- Credibility Alliance: http://credibilityalliance.org/
- Childline India: http://www.childlineindia.org.in/
- Child Helpline International: http://www.childhelplineinternational.org
- Meljol: http://meljol.org
- Aflatoun: http://www.aflatoun.org
- Ye!: http://yecommunity.com
- Ashoka series, #LeadYoung – Great Changemakers Start in Their Youth http://leadyoung.ashoka.org