Finding opportunities in social good
Date: Friday , February 01, 2008
A lot has been discussed lately on opportunities at the bottom of the pyramid. A recent announcement from Tata about the rupees one lakh car has put the 100 year old Tata group on the world map, as the builder of an affordable car for the masses. Similarly, the microfinance companies are spawning new opportunities to serve the poor and the underserved. In a recent announcement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Gates highlighted the notion of ‘creative capitalism’ to address the needs of the underserved. We now know, I guess, what Bill Gates is up to, now that he is officially off his day-to-day duties at Microsoft.
In this article, I wish to discuss the opportunities for budding entrepreneurs to target social entrepreneurial causes, with hybrid models of for-profit and non-profit, creating a double profit line of social good and economic profits. Immense opportunities exist for the bold and the brave to look under the hood, looking beyond the obvious high growth and high paying consumers or enterprises, to discover new sustainable markets and needs that can be addressed through entrepreneurial energy in the long-tail of the human population, living under $2 per day incomes. Microfinance (lending capital) for accelerating rural entrepreneurship has now opened up a range of new entrepreneurial ideas, some of which are obvious and merit deeper investigation. For example, in India, microinsurance might be ripe for the taking, or helping improve the ‘food supplies’ for the road-side ‘dhabas’ and turning them into ‘subway’ style branded cooperatives might be worth studying. Or if you are looking for bolder thoughts, consider the idea to leverage the village Internet kiosks to transform them into a game changing economic growth engine for the rural economy. At this time of the evolution of India, and other such developing nations, we need many more entrepreneurs and students of rural economy to help us unearth these hidden gems of creative capitalism. A number of promising Internet ventures like Kiva.org are leading the path to transform the lives of the poor. Skoll foundation and Omidyaar foundation (founders of eBay) are also doing great work in this area. Organizations like Unitus are also supporting many social ventures with hybrid models of profits and social good.
In the last 2-3 years we have seen a number of talented technology entrepreneurs, who otherwise would have focused on classic for-profit businesses, embarking on the road to social ventures, and in many cases, even as their very first venture. The economic climate for such social ventures is ripe, India is riding a high, and a lot of global capital is available for bold entrepreneurs who have belief in their social vision for change. As with everything in life, these social ventures are not easy to pull off. They take much longer and are typically harder to scale. However, if you are successful the paybacks, both financial and social, are significant. Can you imagine Muhammad Yunus, who started with under $100 of capital 25 years back, has turned Grameen Bank into a multi billion dollar microfinance power house which has touched millions of lives? To get this kind of rewards, one would have to venture off the beaten track and find those sustainable business ideas which address a deeper need of the poor, while providing a scalable business model. Is there any one to support ‘advertisement supported’ text books for the rural villages that can be distributed free? Or, creating ‘food parks’ in the rural farm lands? Ideas galore, we need more entrepreneurs to take up the challenges.