Making Profit And Doing Good

By Moyna Manku
Mint, New Delhi.

Social enterprises are for-profit entities aimed at creating a social impact. Vidya Shah, chief executive of EdelGive Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Edelweiss Group, believes that social enterprises fill the gap that governments and market mechanisms have failed to address. Even though EdelGive Foundation does not invest in social enterprises, Shah says they have a strong place in a country with vast inequalities such as India.

Prema Gopalan, founder and executive director of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), echoes Shah’s assessment that social enterprises have become one of the most innovative strategies in addressing the pressing needs of development.

SSP started out as a not-for-profit, helping bridge the gap between local community and government following the Latur, Gujarat, earthquake in 1993. After the tsunami in 2004, SSP worked to enable women from local communities to monitor the relief effort and act as intermediaries by giving feedback to the government on the progress of building work, selection of beneficiaries and what was needed on the ground.

In the past two decades, SSP has established a microfinance institution and a school of entrepreneurship and skill development for women and youths, and has become an entrepreneur enabler in rural India. Gopalan says it has equipped more than 70,000 women to partner with global and local businesses and develop sustainable rural social businesses in clean energy, sanitation, basic health services, nutrition and safe agriculture.

SSP, along with its group of social ventures, is one of the finalists at the 2015 India Social Entrepreneur of the Year (SEOY) Awards, conducted by the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established by the Jubilant Bhartia Group, in association with the Schwab Foundation, a Switzerland-based global non-profit promoting social enterprise. The SEOY Award winners will be announced on 3 November in Delhi.

Gopalan believes that recognition, like an SEOY Award, will create the much-needed leverage with policymakers and corporations for the networks of grassroots women entrepreneurs. She believes that for social enterprises such as SSP, there is always a creative tension between their social mission and business model, as they operate at the base of the pyramid and function in a “hostile ecosystem, where financial institutes like the banks are unwilling to extend loans”.

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