Resetting the Macro Development Agenda
| Dr. Roopinder Oberoi, Author & Academician, Delhi - 11 Oct 2019

Social Entrepreneurs Defying Isomorphism and Urging for a Capitalism Reset

The Indian social entrepreneurship ecosystem appears to be dynamic. Several new actors are entering the space and determining the contours of the debate. As the SE space matures, the network to support it will also require augmentation. An embryonic arena of social entrepreneurship is promptly drawing serious reflection from numerous stakeholders. The articulation of social entrepreneurship cause necessitates spotlighting on the local, mundane, informal and modest.

By Dr. Roopinder OBEROI

New Delhi, Oct 11, 2019: India has had a long and rich love affair with Non-Profit Organizations (NGOs) but not without adversity. Over the years, India has experienced a rapid increase in the grass‐root organizations, which are viewed as developmental collaborators of the State for neighbourhood interventions. The last decade has witnessed the range of social entrepreneurs enlarge to incorporate sectors such as energy, agriculture, sanitation, and health as businesses.

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There is certain elemental ethos in India which makes it possible for the Social Entrepreneurs and NGOs to grow. It is regularly branded as ‘jugaad’ which is a blend of confidence, doggedness, and frugal innovation. It’s a quintessential Indian way ‘to get things done using any means against any odds’. It is an exceptionally malleable and ingenious approach to problem-solving. The concept of entrepreneurship, classically applied in the context of business ventures is nowadays being applied in the context of social problem-solving. A social entrepreneur by characterization is a change agent and disruptor. They defy the traditional isomorphic views that constrain and categorize organizational innovation. Social entrepreneur prefers reconfiguring accepted value creation boundaries by constantly challenging the status quo.

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Globally too unresolved wicked social problems have raised the call for an alternative from the conventional approach. The impenetrability of traditional silo-based rationalization in resolving many struggles has failed dismally. The challenge to discern effective and sustainable solutions to social struggles is of critical importance and the way out necessitates numerous components coupling together to offer amazing novel innovation in social business design.

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In the report titled Breaking the Binary: Policy Guide to Scaling Social Innovation (2013) relevant questions were raised like: Do we really just have binary choices – between the public or private provision of education, health and other social services; between investors who can choose only to maximize their returns or make philanthropic donations? Is there a middle way? So, is there a model that embraces the financial disciplines of market capitalism but also provides opportunity and support for the vulnerable, the dispossessed and the downright unfortunate? Social entrepreneurial initiatives are breaking up these boundary lines among organizational clusters and reconfiguring themselves as hybrid organizational forms.

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There are numerous scholars who have made noteworthy contributions to build this body of knowledge. They unanimously think that the contemporary global economic system is no longer fit and requires urgent redesigning. Jed Emerson’s blended value, Stuart Hart’s mutual benefit, C.K. Prahalad and Hart’s bottom of the pyramid, John Elkington’s triple bottom line, Schwerin’s and Mackey’s work on conscious capitalism etc are interrogating the guaranteed hypothesis of neoliberalism. According to Simanis and Hart (2008), it is becoming imperative that companies move to a second-generation of corporate strategies that go beyond ‘mere listening to deep dialogue’ with the underprivileged that engineer the shared commitment born out of a reciprocated learn­ing experience. Approximating the concepts like the ‘Third Way’ and ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ or ‘Shared Value’, Social Entrepreneurships principally envision synchronization between private sector initiatives and public sector values.

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So, the task to solve stubborn social problems requires unshackling from entrenched values that underpin the existing world order. The gross negligence by both, the public agencies and the market towards the intensifying inequality, marginalization, and injustice has provoked a precondition to immediately address the enormous gap among people and to give serious thought to the concerns raised by some pioneering social enterprises.

Bill Drayton played a critical role in the advancement of this concept. Having traveled in India he documented the achievements of sustainable endeavours. He got motivation from Vinoba Bhave’s Land Gift Movement which was designed at breaking the poverty cycle by convincing wealthy citizens to surrender part of their land for an equitable redistribution to the underprivileged people.

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Other social workers like Baba Amte, Jai Prakash Narain also influenced citizens to connect to social issues. Muhammad Yunus shared a vision to change the world through microfinance. The common way most social entrepreneurs pursue their mission is through facilitating a bottom-up (endogenous) change by empowering communities. They create social value by innovating new solutions to intractable social problems and by setting in motion a virtuous circle of social capital accumulation. They lend a hand to communities to amass social capital which gives them a better chance of standing on their own two feet.

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This ‘sector blurring’ characteristic of social entrepreneurship has been explicitly recognized. Local embeddedness, sociocultural contexts and altering circumstances surface as key features of social entrepreneurship. Indian landscape spots remarkable entrepreneurs doing groundbreaking work at the local level. Some exemplar needing mentions are - the Aravind Eye Care System which is the largest and most productive blindness-prevention organization.   

Drishtee is a for‐profit social enterprise set up in 2000 puts into action a sustainable, scalable platform of entrepreneurship for enabling the development of rural economy and society with the use of Information and Communication Technology.

Dr. Harish Hande the man behind power generating firm SELCO is committed towards upliftment of people and protection of nature through the utilisation of solar energy in the generation of electric power for the rural sector.

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Anshu Gupta of Goonj is recognized for his creative vision in transforming the culture of giving in India, his enterprising leadership in treating cloth as a sustainable development resource for the poor, and in reminding the world that true giving always respects and preserves human dignity.

Waste Ventures India has established a formalised market for waste streams which averts waste from landfill and creates higher incomes for waste pickers. RangSutra works with artisan cooperatives from rural villages to source textiles that are then turned into finished garments and sold to wholesale buyers and retailers to mention few.

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The Indian social entrepreneurship ecosystem appears to be dynamic. Several new actors are entering the space and determining the contours of the debate. As the SE space matures, the network to support it will also require augmentation. An embryonic arena of social entrepreneurship is promptly drawing serious reflection from numerous stakeholders. The articulation of social entrepreneurship cause necessitates spotlighting on the local, mundane, informal and modest.

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They are gradually yet effectively relocating, resetting the macro development agenda. They are assertively attempting to reclaim the space back from the mammoth indomitable business architecture. Social Entrepreneurs relentlessly endeavour to go back to the communities with indigenous insight and knowledge and provide solutions at the grass-roots level with dynamic community engagement.

(Dr. Roopinder Oberoi is an academician and author. She is faculty at the University of Delhi and specializes in political science and public policy. She has published many books and articles on issues of Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainable Development, Globalization, and Social Entrepreneurship.) 

Image courtesy – Websites, Twitter and Facebook pages of Aravind Eye Care / SELCO / Waste Ventures India/ RangSutra / Anshu Gupta of Goonj / mbarendezvous dot com / Deccan Herald

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