A world of good

By: | Published: February 14, 2016 12:46 AM

Getting Beyond Better is an inspiring book that describes how social entrepreneurship works, identifying four stages that are traversed by all successful visionaries

SOCIAL SERVICE is something all of us are familiar with, with names like Mother Teresa reverberating in our ears. But when we talk of social entrepreneurship, it is different. Social entrepreneurship goes beyond pure social service, with new dimensions being added in terms of transformation. It is the creation of an entirely new ecosystem around a problem, which has some identifiable fault lines. This is done by filling the gaps and transforming the equilibrium, making it sustainable. This is what Roger L Martin and Sally R Osberg explore in detail in their book, Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, giving various examples.

When we look at what social entrepreneur Mohamed Yunus did for Grameen Bank in Bangladesh or, for that matter, even Johannes Gutenberg did with the printing press, we can see that they were revolutionaries, as they brought about a ‘general good for all people’ through innovative systems. Grameen Bank started and popularised the system of microfinance to provide funds to the un-bankable, while the printing press made the spread of the written word ubiquitous.

The authors identify four stages that are traversed for successful social entrepreneurship to take place. The first is an understanding of the real world—not just through a status-quo situation, but also by identifying the cracks that need to be addressed. Next is envisioning a future where we should know in which direction we should be headed, which, in short, is a possible solution to the problem. We hence have to necessarily set high bars, envisioning fundamental equilibrium change. Third, we need to build a model for change that is sustainable and which lowers the cost of accomplishment, which can be captured and quantified. Last, they talk of a solution that is scalable without additional doses of investment, as it will otherwise become too expensive.

The authors make the book interesting by giving several examples to show how social entrepreneurship works. Besides the story of Yunus and Grameen Bank, which the reader will identify with, our own unique identification (UID) programme also falls within the definition of social entrepreneurship. The Aadhaar concept can be used for delivery of various government schemes in an efficient manner, which makes it unique. Such initiatives can come from both the government and private business, and the authors separate the models of entrepreneurship from both these sources. In case of the government, it includes all citizens, is ubiquitous and is also in the nature of being mandatory, with wide-scale social benefits. Business-driven models, on the other hand, deal with their own sets of customers and hence are limited in scope and include only those who are part of that universe. More importantly, they are driven by profit, as they involve private cost and hence have a different motivation from that of the government’s.

Interestingly, one of the examples given for government transformation is the historic Magna Carta signed in 1215 by the king of England, when the rule of law came in. Till then, it was the king who decided everything and who could not be questioned. The civil rights movement in the US is another example of how government-led transformation took place. This holds for the UID scheme as well, which enables better targeting of government subsidies and payments. Therefore, all such entrepreneurship need not just be viewed from the point of view of a social issue being addressed, but from a social good being achieved point of view as well.

For business-level transformation, the examples given are those of Thomas Edison and the light bulb, which was revolutionary. This was also the case with what Steve Jobs and Steve Wozinak did with Apple. These innovations were literal game-changers in the way they affected normal lives. Devised with pure profit motivation, a social transformation was brought about nonetheless by the innovation.

The authors argue that such transformation is not very common and is inherently challenging to pull off, needing an external prod to motivate such action. This can come from social activists or some extraneous development. This sounds reasonable, considering that government and business alike are typically invested in status quo of a situation. In fact, there is a tendency not to disrupt this status quo, as it requires a lot of courage to think differently.

Let us sample some examples, which describe this phenomenon. Sir Ronald Cohen of Big Society Capital, a UK-based social investment institution, started the enterprise to provide capital to social entrepreneurs by arranging debt, collateralised debt, social impact bonds, etc. Molly Melching, founder and executive director of Tostan, a non-governmental organisation, went to Senegal and lived with the natives. She influenced them to change their attitude towards girls and managed to change their lives, reversing the subjugation of women in these communities. Back home, Kailash Satyarthi worked towards helping children, who were involved in dangerous occupations, and rehabilitated them through education. Madhav Chavan, who started the Read India Campaign, has worked towards educating slum children as well.

In all these cases, one can see a commonality: there has not been any charity or direct help involved. These entrepreneurs created new systems to better lives after studying the specific problems and addressing them. These stories are inspiring and anyone wanting to make a difference to society can learn different ways of contributing to this common good by reading this book.

Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, CARE Ratings

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