Social Entrepreneurship in India
The talk of India as an emerging power almost always gets associated with prevalence of social and economic challenges on the ground. Lack of basic sanitation, dearth of education facilities in rural areas, child labor, environmental challenges, insufficient power supply in rural areas, inadequate irrigation facilities and host of other problems tend to blur the image of shinning India. The challenges are undoubtedly numerous but so are the efforts to find solutions. Working beyond the media and public limelight there are several individuals and groups investing time, effort and talents for improving the lives of ordinary Indians. These crusaders are not social activists fighting for legal relief or changes in public policy to address the challenges; they are the doers. They work to devise solutions that can work despite the extant social, economic and cultural impediments. They constitute the new breed of social entrepreneurs in India. They don’t necessarily come up with slogans and agendas for social change but devise effective solutions for challenges faced by less-privileged segments of the population.
At the recently concluded Dell Social Innovation Competition, the Sanitation Solution strategy of a group of students from Delhi’s Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies secured the third place. For the first time in the history of the competition a team from India made it to the finals. Their strategy was both simple and innovative. The goal was to ensure the use of hygienic sanitary napkins by women in slums across Delhi and providing a sustained means of livelihood to slum women. The project also aims at helping these slum women learn the basic skills of selling and encourages them to be independent in financial matters. The strategy involves a simple marketing tactic: Sanitary napkins are procured from the manufacturers directly, thereby reducing the cost, and these are given to the sellers in the slums who in turn earn a reasonable profit margin. The product is available to the slum women at a price which is much lower than the market price and at the same time the quality is not compromised with. The project involves regular camps to train these women in acquiring marketing skills and simple book-keeping abilities. Though the issue addressed by this group of students was not ‘national problem’ or a concern expressed at development seminars in the Capital, it has and continues to make a qualitative difference in the lives of many women.
Gyanesh Pandey, native of Baithania village in Bihar, teamed up his three friends and used resources from University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business to generate power from rice husk. The first plant was set up in the wilderness of Tamkuha, West Champaran, about seven hours from Patna, in 2007. At the plant, rice husk — a waste product — is converted into combustible gas that drives a small turbine. Till today, HPS has set up 60 mini power plants, each generating enough power for about four villages. Together, the mini plants are lighting up over 250 villages with a population of 3 lakh. About 85-90 per cent of the village homes that have electricity pay Rs 80 a month for a six-hour supply every day. This is enough to charge their mobile phones and turn on two CFL bulbs, which help the children finish their studies for the day and the adults their household chores. The project has also provided employment to 300 villagers.
IndiaSocial Fund is a unique venture for funding social projects by promising investors returns for their donations. According to Gaurav Shah, the fund’s manager, the capital for the venture comes from donations that employees at companies make, at an average of 100 rupees a month toward social causes. Currently, the fund gets contributions from 6,200 people as direct donations from their salary accounts. And seeks returns for 15-18%.
In an interesting development, grassroots innovation is becoming mainstream in India. For instance, retail giant Future Group recently unveiled Nutraceutical Cookies, developed by three tribal women innovators from Panchmahal in Gujarat. The products have been unveiled by Future Group in association with National Innovation Foundation (NIF) under the aegis of their ‘Khoj lab- India ka Idea’ initiative. The patented cookies are made from natural ingredients under the four categories of Anaj, Cornif, Kodri and Farari, and are rich in calcium, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, dietary fibre, phosphorus and iron, its bio-active and antioxidant compounds. The cookies will be available in two pack sizes of 100 grams and 200 grams at all Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar stores. Starting with the six Big Bazaar outlets in Ahmedabad, the product will be sold in across Big bazaar outlets in India soon.
From Ashoka’s Changemakers to Teach for India volunteers, numerous efforts are under-way to manage India’s social and economic challenges. Barefoot College has demonstrated the impact of combining traditional knowledge (barefoot) and demystified modern skills in empowering India’s rural poor. American India Foundation and IndiCorps involve diaspora communities through philanthropy and volunteerism to make a positive contribution to their countries of origin or ancestry. Despite the growing enthusiasm, social entrepreneurial ventures face several constraints in India.
In India, the Government is considered the legitimate provider of social services. Social services are provided in exchange of votes thereby reducing the salience of outsourcing these to non-profits. Given the low political value of the entrepreneurial and non-profit efforts, these are largely overlooked by the mainstream media. Only social ventures associated with huge corporate houses, Bollywood celebrities and cricket stars receive attention in the public domain. According to Deval Sanghavi, President of Dasra, social enterprises are definitely making an impact on Indian society but with a population of 1.1 billion, it is very difficult to see that impact on a macro level. Dasra is a non-profit organisation which bridges the gap between those investing in social change and those spearheading the changes. The talent that marches out from engineering and management schools in India are not inclined pursue the entrepreneurial route. According to John Sculley, former president of PepsiCo, innovation and risk taking is not a part of the Indian culture. The social pressure of settling in a well paying job soon after school stifles the entrepreneurial talent.
India is a diverse country where causes and consequences of social challenges vary across the regions. A generic solution, implemented on a national scale, would not yield desirable results. The panacea to India’s problems can be found in locally engineered social and economic entrepreneurial ventures. It’s time to look beyond official policies, five year plans and give the centre-stage to groups of entrepreneurs and non-profits. The state would undoubtedly continue to play a critical supervisory role but it is important to promote and reward social entrepreneurship more vigorously in India, especially when its making a perceptible difference.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.
This article was first published on her blog here