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Social Entrepreneurship: Redefining Development
Dr. P.T.M Sunish
| Category: Social Development

A popular proverb suggests that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime and in my experience, I find social enterprises working towards achieving the same vision. As socio- economic problems are increasing in multitudes, it has given impetus to social enterprises to step up and deliver innovative solutions to these problems and this has also led to the mushrooming of social enterprises worldwide.

The concept of social entrepreneurship is much talked about due to its increasing relevance to the development sector. A social entrepreneur is one who deftly combines social responsibility and business acumen to build enterprises that foster social progress. Moreover, apart from offering solutions, social entrepreneurship contributes greatly in nation building. I saw this first hand during my visit to the United States of America in the fall of 2014 as part of the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) on the theme “Changemakers: The Impact of Social Entrepreneurs in the U.S.”. The programme that, took me across 10 states in the USA exposed me to the different kinds of social entrepreneurship movements, the perks of public- private participation in social entrepreneurship and the best practices in the social sector. During the course of my visit, I was fortunate enough to interact with several social entrepreneurs who encountered a problem and were determined to solve it for the welfare of the world even at the cost of having to shift careers and making significant changes to their lives. They were self- starters solely committed to the cause of driving social change through their ventures. I saw that the successful social ventures across the country had revolutionized development and made it more participatory through the creation of multiple employment opportunities thereby opening up avenues for more and more citizens to come forward and take ownership of the development of their region. It was enlightening to see that these social entrepreneurs were not alone in their endeavours. More and more investors were proactively investing their capital to enable the delivery of solutions that not only generates positive impact but also has the potential for financial returns.

Greatly inspired from this exposure, I began to think about how I could apply the knowledge derived from the IVLP to the development of my motherland. Meticulous thought, critical debates and deliberations in this direction paved the way for the launch of Sandesh One- Social Enterprises Network for Women in 2015.

 

Sandesh One- Social Enterprises Network for Women is proposed to be set up in all the urban and rural areas of Kerala with the objective of unifying, facilitating and supporting the efforts of women entrepreneurs in the state. Sandesh One is driven by an underlying conviction that women are natural social entrepreneurs and as social enterprises are vehicles for far- reaching social impact, they must be led by entrepreneurs with the heart and passion to promote social development. Since women are inherently fuelled by their desire to contribute to the betterment of mankind, Sandesh One will support their determination to enable change. The foray into entrepreneurship will give the women of Kerala a flexible work space where their hope for employment, financial autonomy and creativity will converge.

Sandesh One will operate under a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model and will provide a state wide platform that will encourage, initiate and give shape to a new and wide range of innovative products and services. The project will be executed in a decentralized manner where ownership and responsibility of each center would rest with the entrepreneur herself. The salient features of the Sandesh One Entrepreneurship Network is as follows:

 A Centre in every Panchayat / local body: As part of the Sandesh One initiative, a network of women entrepreneurs will be trained to manage a center in every panchayat of Kerala. This center will offer solutions in areas such as precision farming, advanced fish breeding, high density plantation, renewable energy, preventive health care applications, water management, waste management and afforestation. One woman from each of the local bodies will be selected to undergo a certification programme in entrepreneurship, developed by IIM Ahmedabad, in association with IL&FS Skill Development Corporation. The entire programme is designed in such a way as to make them social entrepreneurs adept in communication, networking and risk management.

 

Bridging the gap: India is witnessing an innovation boom and it is increasingly the young who are working towards creating solutions to tackle the pressing needs of society. Sandesh One will provide financial backing to these new enterprises. The network will provide collateral support for setting up an enterprise, seed funding and support for Intellectual Property Registrations among several other support systems. As most of these social enterprises are start- ups or cannot yet employ the economies of scale, Sandesh One will support them in securing good linkages, funds and help them in post-production sales/marketing activities.

 

Impact: Sandesh One will be the most empowered high-impact project implementation network. A lot of agencies work in scouting for innovations and seed funding. Innovators can leverage this network to take their solutions to the grassroots. There is ample scope for bringing in many high-impact interventions through this network and entrepreneurs can deliver umpteen products that definitely will generate a sustainable income. The center may well be developed into an economic hub/nodal center for implementation of various programmes and services of the government in the long run. 

 

Sandesh One is an ambitious project that derives from a diverse range of experiences from the United States of America and aims to bridge a significant gap within the development sector in Kerala. This is a project that will provide thrust to priority areas resulting in more employment opportunities, innovation and sustainability and lead to a high social capital. The fact that Sandesh One will be wholly owned and operated by women will further contribute to the creation of a just, equal and humane society.

The project – Sandesh One, I am sure is just but one of the several phenomenal outcomes of the IVLP by the U.S Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and am sure that my fellow participants at the programme have similar success stories to share. The programme was one of most enriching experience I had, one that provided insight into the best practices of the social sector in the United States and I would vouch for such programmes that go that extra mile, for facilitating knowledge sharing across the world. 

 

Dr. PT M Sunish is the MD, Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation and CEO, The Gender Park Social Justice Department, Government of Kerala, Kerala, India