The world faces three big challenges- Extreme Poverty, Unemployment, and Climate Change. Despite steady economic growth over the past three decades, over three hundred million people continue to live in poverty. Access to basic necessities like healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation, etc remains a challenge for many.

In his book The World of Three Zeroes, Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus makes a case for Social Business as a solution to solve these three pressing problems. A number of social business startups have started to contribute to social issues while innovating sound business models. Numerous universities now offer courses in social business. Investment funds dedicated to double bottom line investing are attracting a lot of investor interest.

In order to take a deeper look at this exciting approach and learn how exactly social businesses is addressing pressing social challenges, we convened a panel of eminent social business experts and social entrepreneurs at The Jobs Conference 2019 organized by Grameen Foundation India.

Naveen Krishna, Managing Director of SMV Green Solutions a Varanasi based social enterprise that offers affordable, clean, and safe mobility for last-mile connectivity outlines four priorities that they are trying to address: i) Create sustainable livelihoods, ii) Foster Digital Literacy, iii) Empower Women and iv) Reduce Carbon Emissions. SMV upgrades the manual cycle rickshaws to electric vehicles that reduce physical labor and provide an opportunity to increase earning. Replacing regular auto-rickshaws with electric vehicles also reduces carbon emissions. SMV’s ‘Vahini’ project promotes women entrepreneurship in last-mile transportation, while also offering safe, affordable, and eco-friendly transport to female passengers. Camera and smartphone fitted in the e-rickshaws and linked to cloud servers ensure the safety of female drivers and Passengers. SMV facilitates access to loans and vocational support (License, Insurance, Driving Training, and Financial Literacy) to low-income women. Access to loans however continues to be a challenge for women. Patriarchal notions see women as the primary caregiver at home and pose a challenge while seeking loans or sustaining these women as entrepreneurs.

Wealth concentration is problem created by us, but it solvable… …..Suresh Krishna

 Suresh Krishna, founder, and CEO of Yunus Social Business Fund and moderator for this panel drew attention to the problem of ‘Wealth Concentration’ as only a handful of people control a disproportionate share of wealth in the country. Suresh further adds that this problem has been created by us but is solvable. Sumita Ghose, Managing Director of Rangsutra provided a concrete example of ‘how’ this wealth concentration problem is addressed by Rangasutra, a social enterprise owned by 2,500 rural artisans, mostly women. She emphasizes the importance of employment for rural women. Traditionally, female artisans are employed as ancillary staff. When they become an entrepreneur, they not only earn a living, they also have improved self-image and confidence.

Models like Rangasutra can also arrest migration by creating rural employment…… Sumita Ghose

When Sumita saw the female artisans in rural areas making a variety of handicraft and handloom products, for their own households or for weddings and social occasions, she sensed an opportunity to capitalize on this home-grown art and make them their own business owners. At Rangsutra’s centralized village production centers, women work together, learn about design and market dynamics, develop new products and grow. Sumita argues that models like Rangasutra can also arrest migration by creating rural employment.

Working as a Grameen Mittra, Komal facilitates women and old age people avail door-step access to financial services and realize their entitlements from the government…

The highlight of the session was Komal Meshram when she shared about her transformational journey from being an ordinary housewife to becoming an extraordinary social entrepreneur, breaking barriers of poverty, gender, and the digital divide. Working as a Grameen Mittra, Komal facilitates women, old age people, and other low-income people in her village avail financial and non-financial services at their doorstep using digital channels. She has enabled the people to become resilient through better financial planning, reducing the opportunity costs in availing services, and being informed and empowered citizens. Komal is also working on improving menstrual hygiene by facilitating convenient access to sanitary pads for women and girls. The confidence, grit, and determination of Komal enthralled the audience and created hope that it is agents of change like Komal working in their respective communities who can bridge the digital and gender divide. Grameen Foundation India is working on creating a scalable and sustainable business model to support more such agents of change.

The panel successfully drew home the point that social businesses with viable business models can successfully address economic, social, and environmental challenges at scale.

(This blog is based on the discussions on the Social Business Panel at The Jobs Conference 2019, organized by Grameen Foundation India at New Delhi).

  • by Ronisha Bhattacharyya and Prabhat Labh

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