Latin America

Avnish Gungadurdoss, MPA/ID '12, Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Instiglio

Avnish Gungadurdoss MPA/ID ‘12

Avnish Gungadurdoss MPA/ID ‘12

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? 

Like many social entrepreneurs, I am inspired by the cause I am passionate about and the belief that my team can make a unique contribution to it. For me and my team, it’s the opportunity to help people grow out of poverty and live out their potential.   

I grew up in the island nation of Mauritius, and from a very young age I got involved in community service, volunteering at homeless shelters or building affordable housing. I was taken aback by how much their conditions depended on the mere and random chance of where they happened to be born, and nothing else.

At the Harvard Kennedy School, I met professors and classmates who were working on fixing this problem. Together with two classmates, we worked on a solution that we believed would radically increase the effectiveness of public policies and development programs. Our idea was to use well-designed incentive schemes that would hold implementers accountable, drive an increased focus on the performance of public policies and ultimately deliver reliable pathways out of poverty. We launched Instiglio to deliver this promise and that was the beginning of my journey in entrepreneurship, with a $10,000 prize grant from Harvard.

What three pieces of advice/lessons learned would you give about the entrepreneurial journey?

  1. The entrepreneurial journey is packed with tough moments where you will want to give up. Your purpose has to be strong enough to keep you going.  

  2. Work with a team that is equally committed and whom you can trust – I cannot overemphasize enough the fundamental role that the initial, small team of six individuals played in materializing the idea of Instiglio. They all believed in the idea, they all had a high sense of ownership and purpose, and stuck through thick and thin. 

  3. Being “reasonable” can potentially stand in the way of taking the bold leap of pursuing a risky dream. 

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? 

The freedom and mandate to develop new knowledge; the satisfaction and “completeness” that comes with demonstrating that these ideas can actually have a meaningful and long-lasting impact on people’s lives and on the way the whole sector of international development is set-up. The thrill to be a part of something unimaginably bigger, to see transformative ideas expand and reach all corners of the world. The every-day excitement of working with a team of like-minded individuals, who are not constrained nor afraid to work outside their comfort zones, to explore the unknown and keep pushing after every fall in order to change paradigms.  

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

I don’t think anyone has a magic recipe and there are so many things you will have to learn to get right over time. But, that said, I believe a particular mindset can help. First, see every failure as an important learning and have the resilience to pick yourself up after failing (there will be many of those). Have the humbleness to know when you need help and how to rely on your advisors and teammates. Connected with the last point, be an avid and fast learner, always recognizing that your challenge is evolving and you need to continuously adapt and upgrade your capabilities to drive your organization forward. Finally, the last thing you want is to become the bottleneck. It’s important to know when to let go and delegate. 

How has your Harvard education benefited you personally, professionally as an entrepreneur?

  1. The classmates and professors of the MPA/ID program who inspired me to think disruptively.

  2. The incredibly cutting-edge and multi-disciplinary approaches we learned and applied to policy making. New ideas do not come from old frameworks. For instance, I remember the classes of though-leaders like Lant Pritchett, Ricardo Hausmann and Matt Andres being particularly formative.

  3. The community I built with current and future decision-makers and change agents and being able to partner with like-minded, equally prepared professionals to drive change in our day-to-day work in Instiglio. 

  4. The space, funding and support to start Instiglio.