[Part of our fortnightly theme : Social Entrepreneurship. Guest article contributed by Akshay Surve, founder of a social venture startup.]

Today, Social Entrepreneurship has become a buzzword. Some consider buzzwords to be nothing more than marketing gimmicks. I feel buzzwords are good, period. Buzzwords help you make your point and get the message across succinctly. More important buzzwords play a role of catalystsand help propel an emerging trend to reach mass acceptability. In long term the most important factor that decides the fate of a trend is how meaningful and relevant it is. In the rest of the discussion I would like to focus on the broader definition of Social Entrepreneurship and dispel some common myths.

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

There have been numerous attempts at defining Social Entrepreneurship. For the course of our discussion lets pick the broadest:

“Social entrepreneurship is the work of a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact s/he has on society.”  – Wikipedia

There are 3 key components that emerge out of this definition and are more of less common when it comes other variations of the definition of Social Entrepreneurship:

* the problem

* a sustainable solution

* social change

Is Social Entrepreneurship really a *new* trend?

Strictly speaking no. Considering its broad definition no one can deny that its practice is far more ancient.  The roots and first usage of the term ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ can be dated back in the literature of social change in 1960’s and 1970’s. What is rather new is the trend of categorizing these socially entrepreneurial ventures as Social Enterprises fuelled by a recent influx of capital availability to fund such initiatives. Add to this mix an emerging trend towards sustainable businesses, triple bottom line and Base of the Pyramid economics and what you get is a explosive mix of buzzword compliant newsworthy story. Sarcasm if any in my earlier sentence is not intended but merely is a reflection of a true representation of the landscape.

Does Social Entrepreneurship equate to starting Non-profit organizations?

Social Entrepreneurship by its nature is essentially only bound by the social mission and theory of change. The general perception of equating Social Entrepreneurship to starting Non-profit organizations probably arises out of the strong social missions that these organizations pursue. Although, it is not wholly inaccurate there are far many examples of for-profit sustainable revenue generating enterprises with a social value generating structure prompting us to re-think the traditional models and conceptualize new hybrid business models.

social entrepreneurship return

Examples of Social Enterprises:

Aravind Eye Hospital & Aurolab

Social Entrepreneur: Dr.Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr. V) & David Green

Type of Organization: Trust

Location: Madurai, India

Website: www.aravind.org

Mission: Making medical technology and health care services accessible, affordable and financially self-sustaining

Founded in 1976 by Dr. G. Venkataswamy, Aravind Eye Care System today is the largest and most productive eye care facility in the world. From April 2007 to March 2008, about 2.4 million persons have received outpatient eye care and over 285,000 have undergone eye surgeries at the Aravind Eye Hospitals at Madurai, Theni, Tirunelveli, Coimbatore and Puducherry. Blending traditional hospitality with state-of-the-art ophthalmic care, Aravind offers comprehensive eye care in the most systematic way attracting patients from all around the world.

SKS India

Social Entrepreneur: Vikram Akula

Type of Organization: For-profit

Website: www.sksindia.com

Mission : Empowering the poor to become self-reliant through affordable loans

SKS believes that access to basic financial services can significantly increase economic opportunities for poor families and in turn help improve their lives. Since inception, SKS has delivered a full portfolio of microfinance to the poor in India and we are proud of our current outreach. As a leader in technological innovation and operational excellence, SKS is excited about setting the course for the industry over the next five years and is striving to reach our goal of 15 million members by 2012.

AMUL (Anand Milk Union Limited)

Social Entrepreneur: Dr. Verghese Kurien

Type of Organization: Co-operative

Website: www.amul.com

Amul has been a sterling example of a co-operative organization’s success in the long term. It is one of the best examples of co-operative achievement in the developing economy. The Amul Pattern has established itself as a uniquely appropriate model for rural development. Amul has spurred the White Revolution of India, which has made India the largest producer of milk and milk products in the world. (source: Wikipedia)

Grameen Bank

Social Entrepreneur: Muhammad Yunus

Type of Organization: Body Corporate

Website: www.grameen-info.org

Grameen Bank (GB) has reversed conventional banking practice by removing the need for collateral and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity. GB provides credit to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh, without any collateral. At GB, credit is a cost effective weapon to fight poverty and it serves as a catalyst in the over all development of socio-economic conditions of the poor who have been kept outside the banking orbit on the ground that they are poor and hence not bankable. Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder of “Grameen Bank” and its Managing Director, reasoned that if financial resources can be made available to the poor people on terms and conditions that are appropriate and reasonable, “these millions of small people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to create the biggest development wonder.”

As of May, 2009, it has 7.86 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. With 2,556 branches, GB provides services in 84,388 villages, covering more than 100 percent of the total villages in Bangladesh.

Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad

Type of Organization: Society

Website: www.lijjat.com

Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad is a Women’s organisation manufacturing various products from Papad, Khakhra, Appalam, Masala, Vadi, Gehu Atta, Bakery Products, Chapati, SASA Detergent Powder, SASA Detergent Cake (Tikia), SASA Nilam Detergent Powder, SASA Liquid Detergent. The organisation is wide-spread, with it’s Central Office at Mumbai and it’s 67 Branches and 35 Divisions in different states all over India.

The organization started of with a paltry sum of Rs.80 and has achieved sales of over Rs.300 crores with exports itself exceeding Rs. 12 crores. Membership has also expanded from an initial number of 7 sisters from one building to over 40,000 sisters throughout India. The success of the organization stems from the efforts of it’s member sisters who have withstood several hardships with unshakable belief in ‘the strength of a woman’

Note: The above initiatives were hand-picked to show diversity. There are numerous other initiatives small and big that would probably come to light through the rest of the articles in this series.

Other Interpretations of the term Social Entrepreneurship

Now that you have looked at a broad definition of Social Entrepreneurship and also looked at some socially enterprising ventures, I would urge you to take a look at other attempts at defining the term. This primarily includes attempts by people and organizations which have been at the forefront of this revolution.

About the author

Akshay Surve is on a pursuit of making meaning through his initiatives. He works in different roles from being a code junkie to that of being the founder of SocialSync, a social venture startup supported by Unltd India. Recently, he is working on innovative ways to raise funds for non-profits through mainstream social media at GoodCompany Ventures in Philadelphia. He can be reached through email at akshay@socialsync.org

(image credit: YSEI Guide Book)

[If you want to contribute to this theme, get in touch (ashish at pluGgd.in)