KATHMANDU: At the Sankalp Forum held in Mumbai on April 12 and 13, I was inspired by the innovative business models presented, energised by the buzz around social entrepreneurship and impressed by the scale businesses have already reached or aspire to.
Going far beyond traditional markets and business models, many of them have managed to improve mainstream techn-
ology, making it more economical and accessible to underserved rural comm-unities. Some of them bring technology and services to entirely new market segments and others develop demand-based solutions for the base of the pyramid. Many of them require so called ‘patient’ capital to start up as their business models are revolutionary and unprecedented and need more time to be fully marketable. The need for those innovations which use market-based approaches to address social challenges is far reaching to bridge the gap between the social and the business sector.One of the winners was Eram Scientific for an automatic public toilet unit for urban areas. Revenues are created through pay-for-use and advertising. Avaz received the award in ‘Technology for Development’ category for an alternative and augmentative communication device for people with cerebral palsy to communicate by converting muscle movements into speech. Priced at one-sixth of overseas products, the device works in multiple Indian languages. Green India Building Systems and Services received the award in the ‘Clean Energy and Technology’ category for efficient building technologies which reduce main-tenance expenses and environmental impact and are made affordable through a pay-from-savings system.Other business models presented in the forum were equally impressive: Ecoreco has created 3,000 jobs in three years by buying electronic waste, extracting and re-selling raw materials. Driptech developed a low-cost, customisable drip-irrigation system for small-plot-farmers, which helps them to increase yield and save water, time and money.During a field trip, we visited ‘Under the Mango Tree’, a venture which trains local farmers in bee-keeping for pollination to increase productivity of agricultural production and sell the high-end organic honey as a by-product. We were driven around by the first official female taxi drivers of Priyadarshini who provide safe transport to women 24/7. The comp-any runs with 20 cars in Mumbai and is planning to extend its services as new licences become available. We met the founder of Milaap, which collects micro-loans online to bring down the cost of capital for investments related to education, energy, enterprise development, health and sanitation, farming and water.
Low-cost healthcare also seems to have become commercially viable as different health service providers like Life Springs, Narayana Hrudayalaya, Vaatsalya, Glocal Healthcare and Eye-Q are setting up more private clinics in rural or semi-rural areas and deliver services based on highly efficient lean business models.Many of those would probably also be viable in Nepal with its own social entrepreneurs like Mahabir Pun, Madan Rai, Anil Chitrakar and Uttam Sanjel to name a few. It might only be a matter of information and time that similar innovations will be mushrooming here. With investors like Dolma Fund coming to Nepal with an Impact Investment Fund and Changefusion Nepal expanding their services to social entrepreneurs, the foundation for a supportive ecosystem is already in the making.
(The author is a CSR expert at National Business Initiative and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org)