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Social entrepreneurs can address rural-urban rift

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2018

Jaivir Singh writes about the need of more social enterprises in India

There are an estimated 2 million social enterprises currently in the Indian subcontinent, with growth set to increase at a rapid pace. In an emerging economy like India, the need and relevance for social entrepreneurship and social enterprises to flourish is substantive.

Despite being the world’s second fastest growing economy, India still has to overcome a variety of socio-economic issues – mainly largescale unemployment, low literacy figures in many states, a significant rural and urban divide, malnutrition and poor healthcare, to name a few. Hence, the role of social enterprises to address these social, cultural and environmental problems is significant and presents a new model outside of methods which have been used historically in the development sector.

One particular area where social enterprises can play a significant role is in addressing the ever-burgeoning rural-urban rift that exists across the country. Despite the various economic reforms of the 90s, rural communities in India have continued to suffer from a sustained lack of livelihood opportunities and consequent migration. It is here that social entrepreneurs can make their mark with many social enterprises have already proven their success in providing livelihoods and generating income in these communities, particularly for women and disadvantaged communities.

Whether it is through upskilling women in local handicrafts or empowering women to form self-help groups, social enterprises have played a critical role in empowering women at a grassroots level, therefore, helping to change pre-existing societal norms through enterprise.

Despite the many opportunities that India offers to budding social entrepreneurs, there still exist various challenges and roadblocks. One common struggle is the sustained lack of suitable funding and interest from financial institutions to look at this new form of socially relevant enterprises. Formal lenders often remain apprehensive in supporting early stage, pilot ventures. One such example is the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) India which through its flagship programme, The Social Startup Fellowship, a nine-month programme that provides guidance to early (idea) stage social entrepreneurs for business planning, customer identification, use of media channels, among other aspects, for their enterprises. In addition, mentorship support to the budding social entrepreneurs is provided that helps them build, refine and develop their personal capacities and capabilities. All this is possible due to the ‘Action Learning Model’ and an embedded relationship with the private sector which allows for the fellows to access skills and experiences through the journeys of others who have been through similar challenges throughout their working lives. Now in its third year, SSE India is currently empowering 19 budding social entrepreneurs from across 10 Indian states. Till date, 33 social entrepreneurs have graduated from the programme and this year, there is a fair gender ratio split (10 women to 9 men) in the age range of 19-40. Through different learning blocks spread over a course of nine months, the fellowship will help transform the seed ideas of the entrepreneurs into investment-ready ventures in the fields of education, mental health, agriculture and waste management. The sustained success of SSE India over the last three years is a testament to the country’s changing attitude towards social enterprises and the increasing trend in turning to social entrepreneurship as an effective way of solving some of our nation’s most complex social problems. That said, we have much work to do in garnering more interest from the Government, private sector and civil society who have a crucial role to play in making sure we are being relevant to the needs of India.


(The author is Vice Chairman, PwC India Foundation; Chairperson, School for Social Entrepreneurs India)


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