What it means to be a Social entrepreneur in India

The concept of social entrepreneurship, unlike other forms of entrepreneurship, gives higher priority to social value creation. Social entrepreneurship, in itself, is a broad and distinctive field and addresses a wide range of issues such as poverty alleviation, employment generation, rural banking and so on.

Before understanding why social entrepreneurship is critical for development, it is best to explore the concept of social entrepreneurship, for it means different things to different people and researchers. One way to view it is, as not-for-profit initiatives in search of alternative funding strategies, or management schemes to create social value. Another is to see it as socially responsible practice of commercial businesses. Thirdly, it can mean alleviation of social problems and catalyzing of social transformation.

According to the definition of social entrepreneurs by Gregory Dees (1998, p. 4) they are entrepreneurs who solve social problems by:

  • Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value,
  • Recognizing and pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
  • Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently at hand, and
  • Exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

In a recently held summit ‘Sociopreneurship 2010’ organised by The YourStory.in + CNBC TV18 in Bangalore, among many other issues panelists discussed the challenges of being a social entrepreneur in India. The Better India positive news portal was one of the media partners for the event. Dhimant Parekh, Founder, The Better India notices: Some of the panelists defined social entrepreneurship as any entrepreneurial idea being conceptualized/executed with a social intent. The important aspect of this definition is also the fact that a social entrepreneur need not be one with a non-profit mindset.

Anirban Gupta, Founder and Director, Dhriiti:  The Courage within, a non-governmental organization in the field of entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises explains the evolution of the social sector, Initially the social sector was considered synonymous with activism. It was more of a person’s passion and desire to take up a cause. Later, activists began to be seen as social workers and social work as a profession. Now it is a blend of social work and social entrepreneurship. The best part about this transformation is that the sector is not just about NGOs or social organizations but it also includes companies working for developmental goals.

Social entrepreneurship is broadly a process involving the innovative use and combination of resources to pursue opportunities to catalyze social change and/or address social needs, hence it is bound to prioritize general societal interest over personal interest of entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurship can tackle challenging issues better because of its adaptable approach, making possible a localized or micro as well as a macro view of the problems. With this, they can develop innovative ways to address the root cause of problems.

Roles and Challenges

Amongst many roles played by social entrepreneurs, awareness generation through mass dissemination of relevant information in the most innovative forms has been one of the most successful. Many social enterprises have helped in reaching out to the masses and also in maintaining constructive pressure on governments in policy formulation and implantations. Yet, this is by no means an easy process. At every step, you have to break conventions, barriers and age-old beliefs that are plaguing our social mindsets.

Rajat MitraDr. Rajat Mitra, Co-Founder and Director, NGO Swanchetan that gives hope and facilitates justice for victims of trauma explains, “One of the major challenges of being a social entrepreneur in India is the fact that you are constantly dealing with the system, fighting and confronting a system. The challenge is to see that things can be done differently and new fresh thinking has to be brought in. The system has existed for years and it is not very transparent by itself. Even if you bring a small change, it can have an impact of destabilising the system. The system does not allow the freedom to bring in new ideas and creativity. The challenge is more about the mindsets of people. It also affects decision making. In our work, there are many cases when we have to decide that we need to take this victim’s case forward, even if people representing law don’t take notice.” Dr. Mitra is renovating the existing system at three levels. At the community level, he educates victims and their families. At the law enforcement level, he trains police to use humane methods when questioning victims of crime. At the policy level, Dr. Mitra is advocating for legal recognition for the rights of victims in India.

Challenges of social entrepreneurship are further elaborated by Ramesh Ramanathan, who represented Janalakshmi, a financial institution servicing the microfinance needs of the urban poor in India, at the Sociopreneurship 2010, “The two main challenges that one faces when working in a social space are that there are no clear parameters to measure your success or victory and secondly, it is very difficult to get talented people to work in this space, to believe in the long journey of doing social good.”

Balancing Individual aspirations

Taking the decision of committing to a social goal and becoming a social entrepreneur is not an easy one. The path involves a lot of sacrifices, and in many cases, even conflicts with personal goals and aspirations. When it comes to salaries and rewards, there are huge gaps between even the heads of social organisations and heads of corporate. Even though that difference might never disappear, a social entrepreneur is rewarded in terms of satisfaction and social value creation, as explain by Anirban Gupta of Dhriiti, “The greatest challenge that professionals in the social sector face is striking a balance between passion and monetary rewards. Though there is disparity between pay in the social and in other sectors, often this difference is also because in the social sector, people feel that the jobs are all about creating value and enabling percolation of wealth to the grassroots and so, they should not be keeping this public money with themselves even if they are working hard. In spite of this trend, social ventures meet individual aspirations very well in today’s changing times as these careers are now more about the individual’s priorities.”

In such case, what is the right approach that a social entrepreneur must adopt? Ramesh Ramanathan, shared his valuable experience at the event and explained that “entrepreneurs should get real about expectations, citing the statistic that 90% of all new initiatives fail. But, entrepreneurs need to be relentless in their pursuit” that is important, he stated. Clearly, like all forms of entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship is also about balancing various aspirations and knowing your priorities from day one. With a positive mindset and a never say die attitude, challenges in this sector are not difficult to overcome. The pillars of social entrepreneurship largely rely on the ability of these entrepreneurs to find innovative ways to solve age old problems.

The traditional methods that have failed, as clear from the fact that in spite of lakh of NGOs India has still not fared too well on the Human Development Index (HDI) front, need to be replaced by new approaches. This calls for participation and active involvement of youngsters in the social domain. This trend is increasingly taking place. One such entrepreneur is Varun Singhi a young professional working with a leading IT company in India, who started NGO Punya to facilitate education and empower the future generations. He volunteered for various NGOs before moving on to establish PUNYA. It is his brainchild where his dreams and aspirations for a better tomorrow cultivate. When youth take up such social challenges, they tend to rope in other youngsters in their work too. This is the first step of overcoming the daunting challenges of this sector. With new ideas and unmatched vigor, the youth must be at the spearhead of a social revolution in India. Such spirit of entrepreneurship and a willingness to find new solutions is what will define India’s future.

Unnati NarangAbout me:Unnati is a freelance writer, author and entrepreneur. From her blog to media initiatives like Times Ascent, HT Edge and The Better India, she is always keen on any writing opportunity that may come her way. Her writing bug extends to her venture www.serenewoods.com, a publishing portal she co-founded early 2009, for emerging authors. She is also the author of Drenched Soul (poetry) and If At All (Fiction).

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