India, it seems, is in dire need of heroes. More so, in a time of ever-rising inflation, constant barrage of scams and miscarriage of justice. SOWMYA RAJARAM finds that this has translated into a glut of books on social entrepreneurship, with publishers and authors realising that readers are lapping up inspirational stories of community building and change, brought about by someone just like you

BREAKFAST on Thursday morning was particularly depressing. Page after page of all newspapers revealed nothing but stories of murder, scams, and match fixing. That's when the attention turned to a copy of Inventive Indians: 23 Great Stories Of Change, that lay in our bag. Five pages into the Westland Ltd. publication, and our mood was a whole lot better.

We have so many problems around us. Those who find solutions become
icons and heroes. U
mesh Anand, co-founder and publisher, Civil Society
magazine, co-editor, Inventive Indians, seen here with co-founder Rita
Anand. Pic/ Rajeev Tyagi

It turns out, that's exactly what editors Rita and Umesh Anand, also founders of Delhi-based monthly magazine Civil Society, were gunning for. As India Inc grapples with rising inflation, economic gloom, and a sense of fatigue, a growing number of publishers and authors are seeing an interest in stories of change and social entrepreneurship.

Rashmi Bansal's 2011 release I Have A Dream is the third in a series of
social entrepreneurship stories. The three titles have sold a total of half
a million over the last three years. Pic/ Atul Kamble

"We live in complex times. People who go beyond their personal goals to serve society set a new standard," says Umesh Anand over the phone from his South Delhi office. Inventive Indians, therefore, is a compilation of six years of change from the back stories of the eight year-old magazine. Among its pages, you find Chandrashekhar Hariharan, whose construction company's green technologies like conscience meters and intelligent lighting have set new standards. You'll also get to read about engineer-ecologist Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, who has shown how traditional fisheries in the eastern fringes of Kolkata are more efficient and cheaper than a modern sewage plant.

Giving back is big
Rashmi Bansal's June 2011 release I Have A Dream (Westland Ltd) focuses on individuals like Santosh Parulekar, who runs a social enterprise that transforms poorly educated rural youth into highly skilled construction workers. For Bansal, it was the many facets of entrepreneurial journeys that spurred her to pursue not one but three books on the theme.

Her first book, Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish was published in 2008, and the second, Connect the Dots, was out in 2010. "I met so many interesting entrepreneurs and decided to do a series of books on them. I see it as a Panchatantra tale of modern times -- each story is good to read of course, but also comes with a subtle message," says the Mumbai-based writer. Readers obviously agree, because all three titles have done well, totalling over five lakh copies over the last three years.

"I'd say there is a growing interest in entrepreneurship, and social entrepreneurship in particular. Individuals and corporations seem curious about inclusive growth, and in giving back to the community -- this is surely the way to a developed India of the future. Today's entrepreneurs feel responsible to build a strong community," says Udayan Mitra, publisher-portfolio, Penguin Books India.

Penguin recently published two titles -- The TCS Story and Uncommon Ground -- both of which have been well received for the manner in which they combine narratives of corporate success and social entrepreneurship. "Uncommon Ground provides a rare platform for discussion and debate between industry leaders and social activists, which makes for a an interesting exchange of views. The TCS story on the other hand, is a remarkable survey of the growth of this industry in the face of all kinds of difficulties over the last four decades," he explains.

People want to read about change
The growing clamour for inspiring stories of ordinary people changing the world is one of the reasons why Krishna Mehra, partner, Alchemy Publishers, decided to go ahead with The Fresh Brew, a book about 25 IIM Lucknow graduates, who gave up their cushy jobs to pursue their dreams -- from dropping out of campus placements to become FIFA consultants, to turning into the brain behind a website that crowdsourced designs for tees and sold them.

"Over the last few years, we have seen a lot more interest in real stories about real people which inspire the young population to try harder. We believe true stories inspire better and sell better than self-help material," is his explanation for the book that "tells stories of independence," as co-author and alumnus Amit Haralalka describes it.

Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO, Westland Ltd., agrees. "These titles reflect a growing interest in this country for social entrepreneurship. This may have to do with the heightened awareness that we cannot expect the government to solve all our problems." A certain Anna Hazare would agree.

India is reading about change
The TCS Story is on top of the non-fiction bestseller charts, and has sold some 17,000 copies since its release in September.

Uncommon Ground has generated interest and has sold more than 4,000 copies already.
Inventive Indians, 23 Great Stories Of Change which was first published as a coffee table book, sold a record 2,000 copies. The paperback is just out.
The Fresh Brew sold more than 15,000 copies. More than 500 copies are being sold every month.