Leading Social Entrepreneurs Discuss Their Work and Development in India

With ideas as diverse as the various regions in India from which they hail, Indian social entrepreneurs took the floor at Yale SOM on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, to discuss attempts at improving their communities. Whether addressing the energy needs of one of the world’s largest populations or innovating local phenomena such as rickshaw transportation, all speakers demonstrated their ability to marry ‘business and society’ in their efforts. Indeed, the five organizations represented are the partners for this year’s Global Social Entrepreneurship course that pairs consulting-oriented graduate students with social enterprises in India.
Ekta Kothari and Vinay Jaju of ONergy believe that, with over 800 million individuals in rural India without affordable energy, access to energy is the key to social improvement. ONergy’s hybrid model uses the technology, marketing, and servicing departments of their for-profit entity to boost the awareness, training, and capacity building campaigns of their energy equity and sustainability goals.

Radha Basu, of the Anudip Foundation, focuses on creating jobs for marginalized women and youth in rural West Bengal, with hopes of not only providing livelihoods but also preventing “insurgency” and other forms of social discontent from developing in those areas. With 28 local centers focusing on “market-aligned skills development,”, Anudip has been successful at bringing jobs closer to rural communities, thus avoiding the flight to city centers that would otherwise occur with individual career development.

Dr. Pradip Sarmah tries to improve society one rickshaw driver at a time through the Centre for Rural Development. Currently, ten million Indians drive rickshaws and the majority are close to poverty and forced to pay heavy daily rental fees for their vehicles. Rickshaw Bank aims to help drivers churn profits by providing individuals with their own rickshaw, ID card, trainings, and other on-going benefits in a rent-to-own program.

Hilmi and Subhi Quraishi of ZMQ Software Systems use technology, espcially mobile phones, to address developing world needs through a series of games and messaging. With 43 million users of its phase I program for HIV/AIDS, the company has been able to tackle previously taboo subjects and make progress with socially beneficial projects such as disease prevention. The company uses technology to tackle an array of important topics, such as sexual education in a culture that does not happily advocate an open, publicly disseminated discussion about sex, especially amongst its youth. ZMQ uses creative metaphors, such as the benefits of using protection in everyday tasks unrelated to sex, and virtual games with familiar characters such as Mahatma Gandhi leading the charge to a better, safer life.

Anurag Bhatnagar, as part of the Hariyali project of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (http://www.sewa.org) works to not only provide self-employed women with access to finance and social security, but also to provide household-level products and services that enhance health and livelihoods. The recently launched Hariyali project aims to offer cook stoves and solar lanterns to 200,000 households in the next three years. The efficient stoves reduce time spent cooking and collecting fuel, as well as reduce pollution and improve household health. The solar lights extend the productive time available for income-generating activities and for children to study.

Chris Magalhaes