By Munmun Nath
Social entrepreneurship involves identifying a social problem such as illiteracy, unemployment etc. and using market-based solutions to drive social change. The key difference between a social venture and a non-social one (regular business) is that the former measures its success by social returns generated while the latter is primarily about generating financial returns. A social venture is self-sustainable and does not depend on aid. In this respect, it is different from NGOs and not-for-profit organizations. Though the term social entrepreneurship was coined in 1960s, social entrepreneurs have always existed throughout history. David Bornstein, an author who specializes in writing about social innovation, writes that even Florence Nightingale, who created the first professional school for nurses and established standards for hygiene and hospital care, that have shaped norms worldwide, was a social entrepreneur in her own right. However, the idea of social entrepreneurship was truly put to practice only after 1980‘s with the founding of Ashoka: The Innovators for Public‘ by Bill Drayton, the father of social entrepreneurship.
Today, social entrepreneurship has evolved from being an individual‘s calling to the mission of large networked organizations. It is estimated that in 2007, around 40 million people were employed in the social entrepreneurship sector. The number of volunteers was even greater and stood at 400 million. India has been a centre of the social entrepreneurship movement right from the beginning. It has a large percentage of population living on less than a dollar a day and the government‘s resources are severely limited to meet their needs. Micro-lending was one of the earliest social entrepreneurship initiatives launched in India with NABARD being established as an apex agency for rural finance in 1982. AMUL and SEWA are names that immediately come to mind when one thinks of social entrepreneurs in India. Ashoka, the earliest proponents of social entrepreneurship, started its activities in India about 25 years ago when it chose its first 'Ashoka Fellows‘ - people who have an innovative solution to a social problem and the potential to implement it. Since then, Ashoka has been supporting the ventures of these Fellows‘ through training and capital.
There are many other examples of social ventures that are doing good work in the country. George Foundation, established in Bangalore in 1995, leads co-operative farming projects such as Baldev farms, which trains rural illiterate women in farming and cattle rearing and encourages them to share resources such as wells, tractors etc. Vision Spring is a social business that provides access to low-cost eyeglasses to the poor allowing them to be able to work and support their families even after their eyesight becomes weak. Headquartered in Hyderabad, Vision Spring not only provides quality vision care to people in professions that need good eye-sight such as tailoring and watch making, but also provides rural employment opportunities through its direct sales forces who are given kits to sell these eye glasses door to door. Acumen Fund provides small loans and training to enterprises that provide affordable healthcare, safe drinking water and clean energy to the poor. Projects include building water pyramids in Rajasthan, low cost treatment of chronic diseases at AyurVaid hospital in Kerala, and providing all-purpose, low cost LED lamps as an alternative to kerosene lamps.
India has ample opportunities for entrepreneurs to be innovative and make a difference to the lives of those at the bottom of the pyramid. Someone said, when it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened. For social entrepreneurs who believe in making the future happen, surely the sky is the limit.
If a business entrepreneur is a change agent of economy, a social entrepreneur is a change agent of society
-Joseph Schumpeter (Economist)