SE: A new, People’s Corporate Player

Last week we saw growing trends and few trend setters in the world of Social Entrepreneurism. This week we will examine key shift in paradigm that is likely to make this trend very different from past. The social entrepreneurs were always there from Mohammad Yunis of Grameen Bank and Illa Bhatt from SEWA. However this term has caught an eye of traditional entrepreneurs and MBA programs across globe when it was first coined by Bill Drayton the founder of Ashoka: Innovators for Public. However in a last few years few large trends have emerged which is likely to be a major breakthrough in the world of a social innovation. The three trends are collaboration, volunteerism and social innovation platforms for BOP (Bottom of Pyramids) based on technology.

First such trend is collaboration. Recent global economic meltdown was a perfect storm for not only for profit corporate world but also a disastrous for non-profit world. Microfinance Institutions (MFIS) have always been chided as a best example of a growing trend of social entrepreneurism. MFIS and other social entrepreneur’s fund dried up from their traditional sources such as foundations, government and fund raising. This has given a rise to new social networking based tier 2-4 platforms such as Kiva.org and United Prosperity that don’t really rely on traditional bank funding. Even for Tier 1 MFIS which traditionally rely on the banking, their sources have also dried up due to global finance crisis. This has given a rise to another collaborative trend of local savings. With the help of Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, various MFIS are now starting to put additional emphasis on expanding microsavings. Another similar emergence of collaboration and social networking is quite evident in how a traditional approach of water management and sanitization is changing. The Peer Water Network (PWX) is founded by Rajesh Shah with the help of California based Blue Planet Run. PWX is a participatory system to select, fund, manage, monitor and share grassroots water and sanitization projects. This is another example of collaborative platform that allows their members to submit the project, comment on improvement & approvals and approve funding.

Next major trend is volunteerism from rise of confident youth population and collaborative platforms. Example of this is based on how traditional platforms are evolving into new technologically advance platform, a third wave. The example of this is can be quite evident by recent experimental model being put together by Development Support Center, Ahmadabad and Stanford/Berkley student lead study with technology platform from IBM. Avaaj Otalo is a new interactive voice cell-phone application for small scale farmer in Gujarat. This platform enhances already existing several year old networks between Development Support Center and the farmers based on their best practices and radio program. This platform allows farmers to ask questions and responses on a range of agricultural topics. The farmers volunteers join this network of farmers using this voice enabled platform and can resolve their day to day challenges using this technological advanced platform. That said Indian social entrepreneurs should take more advantage by engaging today’s confident and young generation by plugging them into rising collaborative applications. They can take a cue from rise of various US based portals such as Serivceleader.org, Reserve and Experience Corps which give opportunity to retired professional to contribute their lifetime skills to improving their communities.
Last major trend is emergence of socially innovative platform with technology advancement. There are multitudes of products emerging based on cell phone platform that can solve growing information need, to alternative solar platforms for rural villages and alternative vaccine delivery and medication delivery system and water purification technologies are some of the growing trends in this area.

These problems cannot be solved until traditional world of funding source changes their thinking process from charitable and project based funding. The problems of global poverty need an alternative thinking and alternative funding to support that. One such example is Indians for Collective Action (ICA), a Silicon Valley based 40 year old organization which is a catalyst for social and economic equity through community driven initiatives leading to integrated development in India. Their method is to provide seed funding, ongoing financial resources, and moral and technical support to innovative, community based development. During the last few decades, ICA has nurtured and partnered with many organizations in different ways, including the initial founding. New initiatives, such as Asha for Education and Foundation for Excellence started as entities within ICA, and later burgeoned out as independent non-profits. Now their new generation founders are taking their rich experience in integrated development using project approach and planning to solve these problems even in more scalable way. By utilizing three trends described in this article ICA and many similar organizations can seed various socially challenging problems in a scalable way that can finally create a new opportunity and solve long last lasting problems for 86% of BOPs.

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