Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How to ensure sustainability in social sector

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As a continuing subscriber to social change and a student of Social Entrepreneurship Outreach Program (SEOP) offered by CSIM (Hyd), I have come across a few important ideas for sustainability time and again.
Malcolm Warwick Chair, Resource Alliance shared his opinion on sustainability earlier this year when he visited India, which reemphasized during my coursework in CSIM. The traditional approach to NGO, though a commendable democratic movement has a lot of scope for improvement when it comes to sustainability and financial independence. Mr. Warwick said that this is mainly because of their "paternalistic top-down approach" which looks at the beneficiaries as passive receivers rather than making them active participants. The alternative is to trust the beneficiaries to knowing what they need and involving them in the process.
His idea definitely seems to be very sensible considering the success stories of various social enterprises. As suggested by Mr. Warwick, Rural Education and Development builds libraries in Nepal and India by involving the local rural community in planning, conception, construction and maintenance of the libraries. As a result, the local community seems to understand the need for the library and value in maintaining it. This shows from the fact that all the libraries thus constructed are not only functional, but also generate profit.
During one of the sessions held in CSIM by Mr. B. Ravi Shankar, project manager in Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, he quoted numerous success stories that resulted primarily because of involving the beneficiaries in running the project. For example, to get better profit for their produces, SERP convinced the female members of the farmers to form an organization to compete with middlemen to procure the produces of the farmer and selling it in the market, thus netting the profit that would otherwise have gone to the middlemen. Further, they also learned how to weigh the produces and measure the moisture content of a certain grain (which would determine the pricing of the grain) so that loop holes in ensuring profit is eliminated.
Finding examples that support the same point from totally independent sources convinces me that the only way to ensure maximum and sustained benefit to a beneficiary is to trust him/her to know what he/she wants and involve him/her in the process rather than just a passive recipient.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Is targeting the poor alone always efficacious?

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With my on and off involvement with centers close to social development, I find one attitude that may have to be changed for better efficacy of social initiatives. Let me have the first stab at defining the attitude.

"A social initiative will produce a better impact when it is targeted towards the economically poorer sections of the society. The richer the beneficiaries are, the lesser social impact it has.."

While in general this point has a validity, it has to be revisited for every specific case. Here is an example. A team of my friends and I conducted a science demo in a private school nearby. When I talked about this, "Don't you think your initiative would be more useful to students of government schools?" was one question that popped up universally. My answer is "In my case doing it in *this* private school is likely to have a higher social impact" . Why?

1. This private school doesn't have a lab infrastructure in spite of the students paying a nominal school fee (Rs. 200/- per month).

2. The students here do have a capability to read, listen to and understand English, Telugu and Hindi which provides us flexibility in our implementation. So, it gets easier for us to get more students to start "thinking and reasoning science" - a better success rate at our initiative. On the other hand, a government school on which we are working on the ability to grasp English is lesser providing us with challenges (lesser number of teachers from our office)

Much more importantly, access to better education sure is relatively much more difficult for the poor. However, schools that fall in the economic category of the one that we are working on also face problems faced by government schools (non-availability of teachers, labs etc.). In addition to that they also suffer the ignorance of NGOs that rush to help poor quality government schools. It is almost as if these students are paying Rs. 200/- per month to be ignored!

Thankfully, in our case, we need to ignite as many minds to think and reason (in science and others..). In our eyes, whether the students have the ability to pay Rs.200/- or not, if their inclination to reason is lacking, they are equally poor! Only the former is equipped with a skill (English language) that offers flexibility for us to make a better impact.

A society, apart from being categorized into economically richer and poorer, can also be categorized into rich and poor based on other criteria. And the economically richer need not be richer (or have better opportunity) in all the other categories. Social upliftment, one must remember, is not only the upliftment of the economically poorest, but the upliftment of the society as a whole.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship in India : Challenge or Solution

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In broader terms poverty ($2 per day per person) is omnipresent. Nearly, half the world’s population (over 3 billion people) lives under poverty line. In India alone, over two-thirds of its one billion plus population is covered under the definition of poverty. Yet, the strategy for alleviating poverty across globe is reformed but practically every developing nation has remained more or less to same.

Various initiatives taken by Govt and philanthropists are not sufficient for India in overall leveraging the quality of life of the underprivileged and disadvantaged community. Philanthropy is taught as a moral value and a large scale requirement in our community increase its demand. But, it is more required as social entrepreneurship not as a charity. It has been found in various researches that social entrepreneurship is the key element for the advanced and developed community and society in addressing the social needs. Since, Govt can’t target and successfully solve all the community challenges, the demand for various social entrepreneurs increases multi-fold.

India has given birth to some of the most advanced and innovative social entrepreneurs. They have developed few innovative and cost effective models which are used world wide. For e.g Child Help line 1098. They are present every where and are into every area of problems. But, because of their willingness to work quietly they are not well recognised.

Advantages of social entrepreneurs are as they work on the grass root level, they know the immediate needs of the community and they also work with the cultural boundaries of the community and hence, they are most acceptable. Now a day NGO are developing business model with triple bottom line of Profit, People and Planet to make there efforts sustainable and reachable to maximum. In other words, social entrepreneurs are linkage between the Govt initiatives and philanthropy. Social Entrepreneurship not only brings social change but create jobs and generate income to carry forward the further activities at different level and scale. Various initiatives like AMUL India, Aravind Eye Hospital, Barefoot College and SEWA are few renowned examples in social sector, but they are few. To cater the Indian population we may need thousands of other Social entrepreneurs who can solve thousands of other existing problems in health, child education and literacy, employment and disability etc areas. For eliminating such problems India needs stronger vision and Entrepreneurial approach.

In recent studies, it is found that India has more NGO’s per capita than other developing countries, but still few of these operating NGO’s have entrepreneurial approach. Lack of proper information, management and collaboration with other NGO’s lead to poor social impact. Transparency and lack of Funds also contribute to failure in generating good results.

Few B Schools like ISB, Hyderabad and TISS, Mumbai have included Social entrepreneurship study in their curriculum to impart better understanding and knowledge about social change.
As India is moving ahead in economic development, citizen sector can contribute a lot at grass root level to build a better base and improving the quality of life.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Networking event

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On 30 Nov 2008, Centre for Social Initiative and Management provided an opportunity of networking with few National and International NPO by partnering with Unltd India for their “Learning Journey” program in Hyderabad. Unltd was an UK based organisation that supports social entrepreneurs by providing funding and support to help in shaping their ideas. Learning Journeys (LJ) was one such unique experience that is aimed to develop leaders to create greater impact in the world. It was a networking event among like minded people from different countries varying from Hongkong to India and UK to US

Although numbers of Not Profit Organizations (NPO) were invited with different background with different objectives but one thing which was common among them was the passion for becoming a change maker and building a better community. The event started with introduction of Director of UnLtd (UK) and their activities. Next introduction session was from coordinator of CSIM, Mr KL Srivastava and about CSIM activities. The major session was taken by Vijay Mahajan co-founded PRADAN, a rural development NGO, in 1983. A graduate of IIT, Delhi and IIM, Ahmedabad, Vijay has devoted his working life to promoting livelihoods in rural areas. In 1996, after leaving PRADAN, Mahajan went on to found BASIX, the first for profit microfinance institution (MFI) in India, and among the first in the world to attract commercial equity investments. He also shared his journey from his graduation to BASIX, the success mantra, challenges, supports and above all the passion and vision. He also told that most NPOs become ineffective because of lack of business model approach or management. For the success of a NPO it is important to have vision, passion, values and adequate scaling and accounting. It is important to demonstrate the values for NGO/NPO as they have to work on social sector. Values help in developing rapport with the society.

He stresses on word of mouth publicity as if we target rural population most of people are barely literate and hi-tech. It is important for social sector people to participate in the lifestyle of community for better understanding of the problems. It will not just help to have an outlook but a better look of community need. Of course, networking plays an important role in fund raising or fund development.

However, Entrepreneurial concept favors the combination of social motives and values in business model but business model is not applicable to all NPO, as sometime human values are stronger than the funds. But, it does not mean that there is no need for financial management. For those NPO where there are little chances of fund development, it is important for them to reduce the expense and cost.

Other organisation who participated in event were Education for free, Ashrya Aakruti, Safa, Sakshum, ILP (Indian literacy programe), ISFC (Indian school finance company), ISB, Social impact Net, Food works and CSIM.

Indeed it was a perfect networking and knowledge sharing event. I want to extend my thanks to CSIM for arranging such networking event.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship

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As per the definition social entrepreneurship is the work of social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur (entrepreneur in French means “one who takes into hands”) is one who recognizes the social need and bring the change. Social entrepreneurs correctly defined by French economist Jean- Baptiste “who shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield”. They act as a catalyst and hasten the social progress. Thus, they are the change maker or change agents or social innovators, who solve the social problems.

In last 3 decades the social sector has developed a lot and had attracted a lot of dedicated and committed people who share a single vision of social development. The language of social entrepreneurship may be new, but the phenomenon is not new. Social entrepreneurship is not charity. It is not something like feeding with but it means empowering or preparing the people to feed them. Social entrepreneurs encourage, educate, train and empower the beneficiaries to develop skills and direct them to solve their problems. They consider the social problems as challenges and opportunities for social uplifting. It is not necessary that all social entrepreneurs or organisation have no profit objectives rather they generate the income along with social change and use the profit for community building or for further activities. It is not just fund raising rather it is fund development. For e.g Md Yunus, a noble prize winner, from Bangladesh who founded Grameen Bank, innovated the concept of micro financing for poor and beggars. The Grameen bank is For profit organisation but its objectives are to develop the rural and poor community also helping the poor to avail finances for their own development. Social entrepreneurs identify the needs and problems of society or community, innovate the sustainable solution, accept the problems as opportunity and bring the change in the society. The solution or model is sustainable, cost effective and replicable.

Flow chart of entrepreneurship

Recognition of Social needs and social assets and resources
Innovative, sustainable and productive ideas
Business model and operating strategy
Use of opportunity Social outcome and impact

Characteristics of Social Entrepreneurs

Creative and innovative
Pursuance
Leadership
Focus
Dedication and committed
Passionate
Value of long term consideration over short term
Strong ethical and human values
Wiliness to Self correct

Benefits of social entrepreneurship
  • SE generates the social economy by working with the disadvantaged, poor and underprivileged group. Empowering them with training and providing opportunities to them improves the overall capital generation of a society.
  • Social entrepreneurs innovates a solution which is cost effective and which can address a larger group. Hence, it reduces the Govt efforts and capital. Sometime the creative idea even accepted by Govt or Authority as a law or policy.
  • Since, social entrepreneurship is a business with a triple bottom of social change; it provides employment to people in this sector.
  • Overall the objective of social entrepreneurship is to develop community so, it hasten the development of a sustainable and healthy community


Difference between the business entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship

The business and social entrepreneurs are not opposite or against to each other the difference exists in 3 words, the vision, objectives and triple bottom line. For a business entrepreneur the vision is profit generation, objective is financial development and bottom line is benefits and business networking. In case of, social entrepreneur the vision is community development, objective is development of resources and bottom line is quality of life of people or benefits of people. For business the financial returns matter where as for social entrepreneurs it is social return that matter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Look beside you for faster social change

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I have been associated with the movement for social change in my own small way, both at my work place and outside. I have interacted with NGOs catering to the same "social sector" (say education, public health). Each of the organizations I have worked with have numerous achievements under their belt and undoubted credibility. However I find one critical aspect missing. Probably THE critical aspect that prevents the respective interventions in the "social sector" from adding up, synergize and emerge into a global movement. The missing aspect I am talking about is "sharing best practices".

To put my point into context, let me elaborate my observation. Hyderbad, a fast growing tier-I city in India, has around a thousand government schools and a large percentage of such schools ail from shortcomings such as poor basic infrastructure, lack of teachers (good or bad) and poor attendence rate. There are also quite a few NGOs working with the schools to mend these problems. Many of these NGOs have come up with very similar initiatives (for example taking volunteers from corporates to teach Spoken English in schools to improve job prospects). Yet, when I speak to the representatives of each of these NGOs, they are completely ignorant of the initiatives of the other.

This leaves a lot to ponder. If there are 1000 schools, and 10 NGOs doing the same thing, and if each of them cater to 70 schools, that leaves 300 schools with absolutely no help and nobody would know! Further different NGOs may use different models to deliver the same services. One model may be more efficient than the other. This provides for an opportunity for other NGOs to learn from their peers to improve their operational efficiency. But only if they spend some time and resources to research the whos, whats and hows of their peers. But sadly that doesn't seem to be happening in a scale that is required.

There are a few initiatives like NGOpost that work towards encouraging peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. But even they have a few limitations. Though the participation in the forum is very encouraging, often the purpose of the initiative is misunderstood.

In my opinion, looking beside at your peers, knowing them well and co-ordinating your efforts to achieve a common social goal are critical aspects to achive a tangible social change in a much shorter duration.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Social Equity and Development Vision

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At the outset, let me welcome all those who envision social equity, cohesion, prosperity, ecological regeneration and sustainable development in India!

Our economic growth engine and social and political processes and institutions should ideally work for the benefit of everyone rather than only for a few. The history, however, shows that this idealism is not something new. As a matter of fact, this ideal has inspired several thinkers and leaders in the past as well, and the quest of realising this ideal continues even today. Is it just an utopian dream? Or is it possible to make significant progress towards realsing this vision in a considerable measure by applying some practical concepts and tools in real life situations in the Indian context? What are the obstacles on this road? Are we limited by our thought processes and imagination? Or we becoming the prisoners of the past?
Our scientific, technological and management capabilities have increased significantly in the recent decades. The processes of globalisation have created opportunities as well as problems for equitable development. How can we tackle the problems and benefit from these opportunities in our march towards our vision? In particular, what is the role of NGOs and educational processes in realsing this vision?

This blog is an opportunity to explore different dimensions and viewpoints pertaining to the questions mentioned above.