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BEACON '11 Showcases Social Innovation in India

Team YS
6th Feb 2011
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LIBA to introduce a social entrepreneurship course in collaboration with Ashoka Foundation

BEACON '11, the fifth international business ethics conference, focused on "Social Innvoation: A Catalyst for Inclusive Growth," and showcased select social innovations that were built with the vision of individual leaders who dared to dream the impossible and made it possible.

There has been hectic activity in the sector, with microfinance becoming the most visible sector with financial successes. Driven individuals, leaving their secure and high-paying jobs, going to the countryside to better the fortunes of rural population has no less become the fashion statement. The word "social entrepreneurship" has assumed many connotations (with some practices becoming questionable like microfinance institutions charging high interest rates for lending to poor customers), and the interest in the sector could be attributed to late Prof. C.K. Prahalad's Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid is proposed to be presenting great market opportunities for creating profitable businesses.

Solomon Prakash, country director, Ashoka Foundation, has a totally different take on social entrepreneurship. Delivering the keynote at BEACON '11, he said, "money is not the motivation" for "young people burning with enthusiasm to bring about a positive change." Except microfinance, other social businesses are not highly profitable. He quoted the example of young, driven women travelling to villages late in the night and taking shelter in temples only with the motivation of doing something to help the villagers and to bring about positive change. Characterizing the present time as "very interesting time in history," he added, "we are at the threshold of an exciting change."

He then made a connect between innumerable problems faced by rural population and using business tools to solve them. "Collaborative model will work," he proposed adding, "The needs of the marginalized in this country are being addressed by innumerable different models and diverse different firms. The models that are successful are those that are able to collaborate with different firms and, most importantly, the local people. At the core of the successful collaborative models is the idea of interconnectedness among different firms and being location specific. Models that engage end consumers by serving specific local needs and are incrementally innovative both in the idea and operationalization will eventually be successful. One size does not fit all; while that is challenging, yet therein lies opportunities for a social innovator.”

Beacon

Focusing on yet another challenge for the social entrepreneur, Solomon Prakash said: "You need to find people inspired by your vision." These people are driven and don't depend upon supervision to execute the vision. "Opportunities are plenty," he pointed out.

"Philanthropy is still nascent in India," felt Solomon Prakash, adding "finding billionaires to give is yet difficult, although there have been some contributions." He also emphasized on innovation to bridge the gaps in the ecosystem as no regulatory mechanisms exist and exit options are not clean. He concluded stating that LIBA and Ashoka will partner to introduce a course on social entrepreneurship, which will be introduced in LIBA in the coming academic year.

Mr. P. Murari, Adviser to FICCI President and former Adviser to President, cautioned that we might face a situation like the Middle East is facing at present if we don't address the haves and have-nots gaps. Stating that economist Milton Friedman's trickle down effect [which hypothesises that if growth happens at the top level (industry level), it will trickle down to the bottom (villages)] has not worked in India despite growing at 8 to 9% in the past few years, he said "ideas and energy should focus towards the broad spectrum of social innovative schemes will only bring in the comprehensive growth."

Prof. Mario Molteni, founder and director of ALTIS, the postgraduate school of business and society at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart, Milan, said "morality in business is not limited to not to do harm," but "business should create good as morality is a creative issue." Social innvoation is one manifestation of morality in business as it combines business with positive social impact.

Earlier in his welcome address, Fr. Christie, Director, LIBA, said, “LIBA is the only top-10 B-school of the country that has been emphasizing for several years the importance of business ethics and inclusive growth, not only in the curriculum but also in collating the best minds from across the world through BEACON, our annual conference on business ethics. Each year the themes have been increasing in stature and relevance. We see this year’s theme of social innovation as a natural fall-out of the last year’s theme of inclusive growth. Social innovation requires acute understanding of the ecosystem in which the deprived and the marginalized of the India belabor. The conference should provide the delegates a platform to understand the how to innovate socially and that requires a balance between creativity and practicality, profit motive and empathy to the marginalized, and globalized mindset and micro-localized village centric strategies.”

Fr. Amal, Rector, LIBA, in his felicitation said "conscience should not be compromised when doing social good" and encouraged students to risk themselves to do something new.

Dr. K. Gowrishankar, dean, LIBA, in his vote of thanks, said social innovation and inclusive growth should also include children.

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