Social Entrepreneurship


By

Dr. Devendra Prasad Pandey
Director
Nehru Gram University
Kotwa, Jamunipur, Allahabad
 


When multinational companies were setting up expensive health care facilities across the world, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy resolved to do something for the poor. He set up the Aravind Eye Care Hospital at Madurai, which offers the best facilities at rock bottom prices. Since its inception, Aravind has given sight to more than one million people in India. Dr. Venkataswamy may not run a business, but it is important to note that Aravind,s surgeons are so productive that the hospital has a gross profit margin of 40%, despite the fact that 70% patients pay nothing or close to nothing, and that the hospital does not depend on donations. Arvind evolved an eye surgery technique that increases a surgeon's productivity by a factor of 10. This business model ensures that millions of poor, visually-impaired people can be operated for free or nearly free, and that the hospital still makes 40 percent operating profit. It does 2, 00,000 cataract surgeries a year, making it the largest ophthalmology institution in the world.

Prof. Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh set up the Grameen Bank, which pioneered the concept of giving micro loans to the people below poverty line. These micro loans have made a big impact in helping the poor people start their own business and uplift themselves from the clutches of poverty. The bank has till now helped 7000 micro-lenders with 25 million clients world wide. In this process, Grameen Bank has made healthy margins for themselves and also contributed to the national economic growth in a big way. This Chittagong University economics professor won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He first lent $27 to a few poor farmers in 1976, now the Bank has 2422 branches with aggregate loans of more than $6.8 billion.

Ela R. Bhatt established Self Employed Women's Association in Gujrat with the formation of women groupand cooperatives. Now SEWA has 8000 members and a SEWA Bank of which members and employees are women. Many other women social entrepreneurs have demonstrated their social activism through contribution in society.  Dr. Ragini Prem always worked with Prem Bhai as co-worker in Banvasi Seva Ashram and is now managing the programems of the Ashram in the tribal dominated areas of Sonebhadra (UP). Medha Patkar, the Magsasay Awardee, always worked for the cause of common people. She led Narmada Bachao Andolan and other activism related organizations. Writer turned social activist Arundhati Roy has always fought for the cause of displaced community. Vandana Shiva established Navadanya and worked towards environment consciousness efforts. Spiritual mothers like Maa Amritandai have awakened their followers in behaviour modification, spiritualism and mass education. Arun Roy's efforts in the enactment of Rights to Information Act will be remembered always.

Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh decided to work for the improvement in the drought prone area of Rajsthan. He undertook massive work on water related infrastructure development with the cooperation of local community. He was awarded with Roman Magsasay Award for his contributions in community work.

The social entrepreneurship inspires a person or group to work for the betterment of community. Social entrepreneurship can be successful if it had a mix of creativity and innovation. A distinction can be made between creativity and innovation. The term creativity usually refers to the ability and power to develop new ideas. Innovation, on the other hand, usually means the use of these ideas. Creative process is generally consists of (1) unconscious scanning (2) intuition (3) insight and (4) logical formulation.

Eminent scientist and former chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Yash Pal said that Indian industry and the education system lacked "creativity" and did not promote innovations that happen at local level within the country. Innovations happen in India too. He applauded National Innovation Foundation for scouting more than 51,000 innovations during the past five years from over 400 different places of which 15 technologies have been commercialized. He said that practical knowledge was not imparted to the students who were tested only on their cramming or memorizing skills, students are taught from some text-books and are not to think out of it. Creativity is not stressed in the curriculum and so the students do not think differently. Ability to think differently is an important factor that leads to future innovations.

The 21st century favours knowledge, ideas and creativity. This century is about young, restless minds pushing the digital age forward. This will require creative companies, quality educational institutions, and ideas pouring forth in all forms and an innovation system. Knowledge remains key to India's position in the world. IT services, jewelry, pharmaceuticals, handicrafts have powered India's recent economic performance. As in the past, our soft infrastructure (creativity, ideas and open borders) far exceeds our hard infrastructure (highways, ports, power and so on) in global competitiveness.

In Trichhirapalli, J.K. Tripathy led the transformation of the police force from an image of 'extortionist' to 'anna' (elder brother). Subsequently, the crime rate dropped by 40 percent and that too in a communally sensitive town. With an innovative concept called 'community policing', wherein a group of four policemen took ownership for the law and order of a community, was adopted. They won their trust by engaging with them proactively, and preventing law and order problems rather than merely, reacting to them. Now 'community policing' is being exercised everywhere. Tripathy demonstrated that the real issue is absence of creative leadership and the capacity to lead change.

India's voluntary sector has been known for its creativity and innovation. Innovative and creative efforts have been recognized from time to time. Now, with this result few programmes are being implemented exclusively by NGOs. People living in islands dotting Assam's Brahmaputra river no longer worry about isolation as a hospital floats up to them at least twice a month to check on their health. Akha a boat with medical personnel and supplies is a unique door-to-door service for the poor inhabitants of the state's islands. Akha, which means 'hope' in Assamese, is the brainchild of the Association for India's Development (AID) and Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES). The NGO was sensitive to the vulnerability of those who lived in the rural islands, for away from hospitals and communication. The boat has space for on-board treatment of basic health problems and also provides referral services. It accommodates health professionals and can be turned into a training centre. This was funded by prize money from a World Bank competition won by C-NES volunteers and a group of grass-root boat-builders in 2004. With the India Country-level Development Market Place award of $20,000 (Rs. 9,00,000), volunteers could realize their dream of treating the unreachable under-privileged sections. This creative thought is a true and successful example of public-private partnership under which Assam Medical College, Dibrugarh provides the medical facilitation while district administration supplies the fuel for vessel.

The Nehru Gram Bharati University has taken a leap in being social entrepreneurship centre. From organizing farmer's training, training of rural women on entrepreneurship, health camps on public-private partnership and cloth donation programme to imparting formal higher education to youths in different disciplines, the university embarked on innovation and creativity.
 


Dr. Devendra Prasad Pandey
Director
Nehru Gram University
Kotwa, Jamunipur, Allahabad
 

Source: E-mail December 21, 2008

          

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