Housing Solutions for India’s underprivileged: An interview with Aden Van Noppen of Micro Home Solutions (Part 1)

March 15, 2011

New Delhi, India. As part of my ongoing series of interviews with Social Enterprises across Africa and Asia I had the opportunity to sit down with Aden Van Noppen of Micro Home Solutions, based in New Delhi. Aden is originally from North Carolina, USA but has significant experience working in social enterprise, having previously worked with Acumen Fund in New York before starting a two-year Piramal Fellowship with MHS.

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Josiah, RP: Hi Aden, thanks for meeting with me! So what is your story and background? How did you get into social enterprise and how did you decide to live in India?

Aden, MHS: Well, I found out about the social enterprise sector when I was studying abroad in India during college. While I was here, I interviewed the person who used to run Acumen Fund’s Energy Portfolio in India. That interview put the idea in my head that when I graduated I wanted to work in the social enterprise sector. I thought it was a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of the stuff I was seeing in the development sector in India. It was such a new approach with the potential to get around a lot of the barriers that traditional NGOs or government face. When I got back from India, I worked that summer at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, an international development consultant firm, on the launch of ANDE, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs. ANDE is a coalition of intermediaries that support social enterprise development, including Acumen Fund, Endeavor, Root Capital, Technoserve, etc.

Josiah, RP: Which office at Dalberg where you at?

Aden, MHS: New York.

Josiah, RP: Very interesting, I have a good friend who worked in their San Francisco office.

Aden, MHS: Acumen Fund was one of my clients at Dalberg and during that time I was also doing an independent consulting project on the side for them related to engaging young people with the idea of using markets as a tool to address poverty. I developed a strategy that they then hired me to launch during my senior year of college. I was trying to figure out how Acumen Fund could support young people who want to get into the sector but also how those young people can then support Acumen fund. I did that for a year and then came on to join Acumen full-time. Originally I was on the communications team, finishing up some of my strategy project, and then I moved over to the portfolio team, supporting the Chief Investment Officer across all sectors. I was a generalist, and eventually I decided that I needed to really get more experience on the ground, so I came here [to India]. I wanted to work on urbanization specifically because I feel like a lot of the work that happens in the development sector is very rural-focused yet the future of economic growth and change in a lot of these areas. The population is rapidly moving to urban centers, so figuring out how to urbanize effectively is central to success in places like India. I was able to find this opportunity that combined the social enterprise side, because MHS is a social enterprise trying to work through the market mechanisms, focused on how to build inclusive cities. I came here on a fellowship called the Piramal Fellowship.

Josiah, RP: Yeah I was researching Piramal, it looks really interesting. How did you learn about that?

Aden, MHS: Actually, I heard about Piramal through a colleague and I was already in touch with MHS about potentially working for them. So when it turned out that MHS had a position through Piramal it was just perfect.

Josiah, RP: Yeah it’s funny you mention that because I one of the things I keep finding, coming from the for-profit consulting world, is that I’m always trying to navigate a really unfamiliar set of circumstances to get my work projects lined up and approved. It’s been quite ad hoc, which is fine, but I’m only now finding several organizations similar to Piramal who can make my projects a bit more formal.

Aden, MHS: Yes, we need more organization supporting people to do this kind of work.

Josiah, RP: So how does the Piramal Fellowship work?

Aden, MHS: Well our sponsoring enterprises pay our salary because we’re there for long enough that we are considered a full member of the team. It’s a 20-month commitment, and aside from the work itself the fellowship provides a bunch of other stuff like trainings, mentors, and a great cohort.

Josiah, RP: Wow, it sounds a bit like the Endeavor fellowship. As an Endeavor Corporate Fellow my start-up sponsored me, provided a small stipend, and gave me a local support network while I was abroad.

Aden, MHS:  Yes, sounds very similar.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II.

- Josiah

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