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The Age of Social Entrepreneurship - Outside View

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The Age of Social Entrepreneurship
Mar 21, 2014

What attributes should a social entrepreneur have?
- A vision for social change.
- Passion for solving problems.
- Ready to go where no-one has before.
- Willing to challenge fixed mind-sets in society.
- Ready to learn from mistakes.
- Want to create large-scale change in society through their work
Margaret Mead famously said 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.' Her quote aptly describes the cohort of social entrepreneurs in India, who are bringing the spirit of business into the non-governmental (NGO) space in order to improve the lives of those disadvantaged in society.

Social entrepreneurs bring a mix of ambition required to succeed in the business world with a sense of compassion and care for their less privileged counterparts. Their motive is not to make profits or give hand-outs to groups but to create systems that will generate solutions to our country's most pressing problems. Bangladeshi entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus is perhaps the best known example. His work with the rural poor and model of micro-lending with the Grameen Bank is a model for many across the world. Social entrepreneurs like him work in a range of areas from water to environment, food to technology. Akanksha Hazari heads m.Paani, which uses mobile technology to help the rural population access information about water supply, healthcare and energy, and will soon expand to Africa. Harish Hande founded the Solar Electric Light SELCO in 1995,
What are the steps to starting your own social enterprise?
- Identify what your beneficiaries need. Connect with them. What niche will you address?
- Find a solution to meet the identified need. Either an existing solution or a new innovation
- Build the solution while creating a sustainable organization
- Test it! Does it work? Be ready to rework until you find a workable balance. Sustainability is key
and has been delivering solutions in energy sustainability ever since. In 2011 he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award (sometimes called Asia's Nobel Prize) for his work.

Perhaps the qualities one would need, to be a successful social entrepreneur would be a spirit of enquiry, a willingness to take risks and venture into the unknown. Many social firms are set up to serve rural populations, and take their founders off the beaten path. Noted educationist Bunker Roy helped start the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan which caters to the needs of the rural poor. The college innovates to find solutions to pressing rural problems. One of their most famous programmes involves training grandmothers as solar engineers! People from across the world now come to Barefoot College to learn from their model. The ability to identify problems that are worth solving and their impact on beneficiaries is also a key ability of entrepreneurs.

Luckily for social entrepreneurs, they're not alone. Recognizing the power of the impact, several corporate and non-profit foundations have stepped in to reward social entrepreneurs in their early days and incubate their work. The Tata group organizes the Tata Social Initiative Challenge jointly with IIM-Calcutta while Dell has been hosting the Dell Social Innovation Awards for the past seven years. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla helped set up the Khosla Labs to incubate technology-driven innovative solutions to problems. Here's hoping that they will succeed in their enterprises, and make the world a better place for everyone.

To learn more about the NGO sector please visit HelpYourNGO Knowledge Centre.

HelpYourNGO.com seeks to increase transparency in the social sector and promote philanthropy. Donors can use HelpYourNGO to make an informed decision by accessing NGO financials and comparing data across multiple parameters.

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