India only decriminalized homosexuality last year, which may indicate a rather phobic populace and government. But one “out” entrepreneur, Nitin Rao, is on a mission to break the silence and make homosexuality an accepted part of Indian culture.
Riding on the heels of the “It gets better” project–a collective effort to raise awareness and put an end to bullying-induced suicides–Rao launched his LGBT India Foundation to help bring the same kind of public support found in the U.S. to India.
“While there have been valuable efforts in grassroots-level activism, as a social entrepreneur, I sensed a “white space” in the college and workplace settings–this was also a segment where I had the most credibility to apply my entrepreneurial background to make a difference,” Rao tells Fast Company.
“As a gay Indian entrepreneur with experience launching multiple ventures, trained in innovation at MIT Sloan and as an alumnus of The Boston Consulting Group LGBT Network, I felt compelled to get involved, and help address what clearly was a severe void in leadership,” says Rao.
Rao hopes to start a national conversation in India by facilitating workplace discussions and “workplace safe spaces,” sponsoring college clubs, providing student mentorship, launching social media campaigns, and large, public events with corporate conferences and events like TED. For Rao, a serial entrepreneur with startups including Instant Intro and Engineers for Social Impact, the LGBT India Foundation is not only a personal and moral endeavor, but also a straightforward niche opportunity, which comes through in the way he speaks about his startup.
“As a TED Fellow, I felt especially privileged in terms of the resources and skills I could bring to this critical challenge. Serving as an advisor to startups at MIT and the Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore, I felt that I could leverage some of my learning in building and scaling high performance social enterprises,” says Rao.
Changing social mores is never easy, and with all the experience he brings to the table, he understands that.
“We’re launching this foundation recognizing that we’re addressing a complex issue that will take several years to get traction, but that we can accelerate the pace of that positive change.”