India Needs Social Entrepreneurs and Social Intrapreneurs to Fight Recession

18th May 2009
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This op-ed was submitted by Suresh Pramar, and is a user post. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of TC-I, but we feel that it is important to cultivate opinions from all sides.

India like the rest of the world has not escaped the impacts of the current downturn. The sudden rush in retrenchment and forced salary cuts is an indication of the prevailing financial meltdown the result of corporate greed and irresponsibility. It needs to be emphasized that not all in the corporate sector are to blame. While middle level and junior staff have worked long hours expecting rewards for their efforts top management have given themselves unearned bonuses.

What is needed now is leadership with vision to steer the country out of this situation. A vision that speaks to small and medium-sized businesses and at the same time one that attends to the pressing requirements of our community.

India fortunately has an active and growing social enterprises sector which is engaged in delivering the much required services to the community. Many of these social entrepreneurs have earned distinction and awards for the good work they have done and continue to do in the service of the people.

Among these is Dr Harish Hande whose company SELCO, using solar technology, has lit up hundreds of thousands of households with ‘clean’ lighting. About 65 to 75 percent of the beneficiaries are small farmers who earn between Rs 100 to 200 a day After reaching 80,000 clients across Karnataka and Kerala SELCO moved into Gujarat.

Solar electrification has brought in brought about a dramatic change in the social and economic lives of the beneficiaries. It has helped children secure better academic results since they can now study at night. It has increased livelihoods and incomes of night-time vegetable vendors. Additionally it has ended the use of dirty and dangerous kerosene lamps. For the environment, the 80,000 systems deployed avoid emissions of approximately 24,000 tones of CO2 equivalent per year that would have been released by the use of kerosene lamps.

Dr Hande’s efforts have earned him the ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ 2007 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation Recently SELCO won the FT-ArcelorMittal ‘Boldness in Business’ award in the CSR category.

In Ahmedabad Rajendra Joshi’s Saath works with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to ensure that slum residents receive basic sanitation, water and drainage services at the household level and paved roads and street lights at a community level. It has created mechanisms through which the urban poor can save and pay the user charges.

Saath is also demonstrating models of public-private partnership where the urban poor are key stakeholders. It tailored profit-based solutions for electricity supply in Ahmedabad’s slums by altering the user fee, increasing business volumes and bringing in government contribution. As a result, 200,000 slum households today pay for electricity with the business house, Torrent Power, reporting a 30% increase in profits

In Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi and Rajasthan. Arbind Singh’s Social Enterprise, Nidan is helping to build profitable businesses and ‘people’s organizations’ which are led by asset less, informal workers. Nidan, over the past years has launched a range of cooperatives, Self Help Groups (SHGs), trade unions, and individual and community businesses These have positioned unorganized workers as legitimate competitors in globalizing markets of India.

In 12 years, Nidan has launched and promoted 20 independent businesses and organizations that are governed and owned through shares by 60,000 urban and rural poor members. The enterprises include 4618 SHGS, 75 market committees, 19 co-operatives, two societies and one company—all envisioned and led by a complex of waste workers, rag pickers, vegetable vendors, construction labourers, domestic helpers, micro-farmers, street traders and other marginalized occupation groups.

The economic downturn is also hurting many of such enterprises. Social enterprises, however are not seeking charity; they want the support of business to complement their roles Business can play a proactive role in creating and promoting social enterprises. This they can do be creating social intrapreneurs within the organisation who, with the blessing of management, seek opportunities for their companies while using the core skills and resources of their employers as the basis for their projects.

Social Intrapreneurs are creating and delivering new products, services and business models. These not only generate business value but address some of society’s most pressing challenges. They compel their companies to look out of their comfort zone to see the strategic risks and opportunities that exist beyond the purview of traditional business units.

John Elkington, founder and chief entrepreneur at SustainAbility, believes companies should try to give employees space and permission to think about social innovations, and then mentor, coach and support the most promising intrapreneurs and initiatives. “They might need to select projects with the coldness of a venture capitalist and build a portfolio of projects with different levels of risk, accepting that some of them are bound to fail,” he says.

To help to strengthen social intrapreneurs to counter the present recession Governments can also pitch in to fund part of the costs of social intrapreneurs This will provide the company a new source of income during the downturn, the community gets the benefit of much needed services and products..

It is now generally agreed that we need both the social entrepreneurs and social intrapreneurs. While ensuring societal change, social intrapreneurs are also necessary for a company’s survival in an environment of rising expectations of the role of business in society.

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