Table of Contents
Let us take a look at some of the social entrepreneurs in India who are changing the landscape of entrepreneurship and social change in the country:
The guilt of creating a huge amount of plastic waste while using plastic cutlery made him ponder over possibilities to reduce this waste. This thought bugged Narayan Peesapaty. And while pondering over this, he once saw a co-passenger on a flight using ‘khakra’ to eat pudding.And that’s that! The answer he had found materialised in the form of ‘Bakeys’ – an edible cutlery manufacturing start-up. This cutlery can itself be eaten after being used to eat food and thus helps in reduction of plastic waste. The company uses different types of flours (jowar, wheat, millet, and rice) to make eatable cutlery like spoons, forks, and chopsticks. This cutlery has a shelf life of around 18 months and when unconsumed, it decomposes within a week. Bakeys was founded in 2010 in Hyderabad.
Shubhendhu Sharma is the founder of ‘Afforestt’ – a social enterprise aimed at creating natural, wild, maintenance free, native forests. The company uses the unique Miyawaki methodology to convert any land into a self-sustainable forest in a couple of years. The company has planted over 54,000 trees since its inception in 2011. The inspiration dawned upon Shubhendhu when he was assisting a naturalist, Akira Miyawaki in cultivating a forest in the backyard of Toyota plant where he worked. Following this, he quit his high paying job to plant trees.
Nand Kishore Chaudhary
NK Chaudhary is the founder of Jaipur Rugs – one of India’s largest manufacturers of hand knotted rugs. Jaipur Rug emphasizes on connecting the rural weavers with the global customers. These artisans are not just seen as weavers but also teachers, quality control experts and mobilizers. This mission has brought a sense of pride and accomplishment to these talented artisans. Every rug woven here tells the story of a dying art that the villagers try day and night to revive. NK Chaudhary’s core philosophy says, “Jaipur Rugs is more than a business – it is a family.” Jaipur Rug also works towards empowering women in engaging in a sustainable livelihood. The company employs men and women from the remotest parts of the country with little or no access to transport. The weavers usually have the option of working from home and decide their own work hours. This also tackles the problem of not allowing women to work outside the home in traditional Indian communities.
Purvi completed her Masters in Environmental Management from Australia in 1999.Post this she returned to India.Thereon she worked with different NGOs. During a research project in small tribal area of Netrang and Dediyapada in south Gujarat, she first got acquainted with farming community. She was surprised to know about the knowledge that the illiterate women here had with regards to plants and trees in the jungle and their medicinal values. On a weekend when she visited Matar village, 4 km from Ahmedabad where her mother had planted several vegetables and fruits in the 5 acres of land acquired by them. Sensing the fresh air and the healthy life there, she decided to quit her job and become a full-time farmer. It was tough initially as she had no knowledge of farming. With time she learnt, and came across ill effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Upon researching, she concluded organic farming was the answer to almost all the environmental imbalance we face today. She created a self-sustaining model in her own farm which included setting up a dairy farm, a must for organic farming. There was a constant cash flow with this model. Milk was sold for daily cash, flowers for weekly, and the vegetables, fruits, and grains were sold fortnightly, monthly, and yearly respectively. Over and above this, Purvi has pushed for the barter system amongst the villagers. The farmers were initially apprehensive of organic farming due to financial constraints. She convinced around 50 families who agreed to purchase their veggies from these organic farmers till they could make net profits, which is approximately three years. Today, she also teaches everything there is to learn about food, in colleges in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.
Founded in 1972 by Ela Bhatt, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is a trade union that promotes the rights of low-income and independent female workers. With over 20 lakh members, it is the largest organisation of informal workers in the world. SEWA is framed around the goal of full employment in which a woman secures for her family: income, food, health care, childcare, and shelter. Indian women are thought to be most productive in the household chores and to challenge such mind-set, SEWA highlights the value of such women’s craft and skills and their importance for the Indian economy. Ela Bhatt observed poor women in Ahmedabad and found that they were not just domestic workers, but in fact businesswomen, hawkers, street vendors, and construction labourers. Not all of this was being represented in India’s economy. Ela Bhatt has been accorded with Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1977, Right Livelihood Award in 1984 and also the Padma Bhushan in 1986. She is also the member of ‘The Elders’, Nelson Mandela’s group of world leaders formed to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems.
Ranjan’s interest in teaching goes back to his school days when he used to teach primary school children. Further, he taught slum kids for three years, until he reached standard 12. He soon dropped out of college and got selected for two-month entrepreneurship project at IIT-Kharagpur. His first campaign was called ‘Plant for Bihar’ which led to plantation of over 2000 trees in Patna during Diwali 2016. To make villagers contribute towards environment, he started Plant Eco Circle in October 2016 wherein it tried to educate the villagers. He soon realised the dearth of good teachers in schools in Gaya. Hence, he started working on a programme called “Education in my Village,” where qualified teachers are hired and their salaries are arranged by Plant Eco Circle. So far, he has been able to help 10 such villages. Programmes like “Entrepreneurship in my Village” help women towards self-help groups and entrepreneurship. Also, under “Code for Village” he teaches coding and programming languages to the kids from villages. His aim to create an educational and entrepreneurial atmosphere in Bihar.
Born in Rajkot, Mansukhbhai acquired the pottery skill since his hardships filled childhood including working at a tea stall. He set up his earthen plate factory with a Rs. 30,000 loan after which he developed a machine that produced 700 earthen pans every day. Bhuj earthquake of 2001 wrecked half of his products. However, during this time an idea which led to the birth of “Mitticool” fridge sparked. This fridge was made using terracotta and operated on the simple principle of circulation and evaporation of water which kept the contents fresh and cool for five days. Today, Mitticool manufactures and exports products like fridge, water bottles,non-stick pans, cheap water filters, etc. and has won a plethora of awards. He also features on the Top Rural Entrepreneurs of India list.
Raees Markani is a mechanic from Madhya Pradesh who has invented a car which can be fuelled by water. It runs on a gas called acetylene formed by a chemical reaction between water and calcium carbide. Several Chinese automobile companies invited Raees to develop this project further. He has also filed patent for this technology after a Chinese firm was interested in this innovation. He has asked the investors to set up the plant in his hometown which is where he wants things to change.
Famously known as the ‘Padman’, most of us probably know him because of the movie based on his life. Born and brought up in Coimbatore, Muruganantham worked many odd jobs to feed his family and thus lived most of his childhood and youth in poverty. After marriage, he discovered that his wife used to gather filthy rags and newspapers to use during menstruation as the sanitary napkins in the market were too expensive. He took it upon himself to make economical pads for women from rural and poor sections. His cotton-made prototypes were used by his wife and sister. But they failed to be useful. Soon, they stopped cooperating in his experiment. He then began testing it on himself using a bladder with animal blood. Menstruation being a taboo subject in India, and more so in rural India, his initiatives were not welcomed by his family and community who then ostracised him. Even his wife left him. He, however, continued to struggle and it took him two years to realise that cellulose derived from pine bark wood pulp was the absorbent in commercial pads. He devised a low cost machine which could be operated with minimal training. This machine cost him Rs. 65,000 and could manufacture sanitary pads for less than a third of the cost of commercial pads. His idea picked up and today his mini machines have been installed in 23 states of the country. Muruganantham plans to expand production of machines to 106 countries. He has also repeatedly denied to commercialise his venture and continues to provide these machines to self-help groups (SHGs) run by women and raise awareness on menstrual hygiene. In 2016, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India. In addition, he has delivered lectures at institutes like IIT Bombay, IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, and Harvard.
Humrahi Jain left his well-paying corporate job and went on to launch ‘Stationarray’ in 2017. It is a model based on ‘a stationary that is no more stationary’. After researching about the education sector, Jain found that the books, stationary, and gifts market in India was highly unorganised. This has hampered not only the sector’s growth but also made it difficult for the students to access basic stationary and books. Therefore, he decided to instead bring stationary to the doorsteps and launched a pilot project in Noida which has a good mix of schools, residential societies, and corporate parks. Along with his co-founder, Dr.Smita Singh, a lawyer and social worker, he developed a road map and an itinerary for the truck. They have already serviced twelve schools, eight societies, and three corporate parks. Humrahi has plans to venture into Tier 2 and 3 cities and villages in the future in order to provide aid to underprivileged kids in the remote parts of the country. Ten percent of profits will be used to subsidise the supply such kids at cost price or free of cost.
Rangu Rao is an alumnus of Delhi University and heads the Watershed Development Programme of Samaj Pragati Sahyog, one of India’s largest grass-roots initiatives for water and livelihood security, working in the most backward districts primarily in central Indian Adivasi belt. This programme creates water-harvesting structures which offered drinking water security and also drought proofing. This was followed by equitable sharing of water wherein written agreements were drawn up detailing everything. Each household was given equal share of the water irrespective the size of their land holdings. Rao’s paper on ‘Rural Credit in 20thCentury India’ (along with Mihir Shah and PS Vijay Shankar) is a part of the syllabus for Delhi University’s Economics department. SPS has programmes in over 220 villages and towns. He is also the CEO of Safe Harvest Pvt. Ltd. This organisation works on the premise that consumers would be willing to pay a modest premium for widely available, guaranteed safe food produced by India’s poorest farmers, thereby creating a win-win situation for both consumers and producers.
Anshu Gupta quit his corporate career when he started Goonj in 1999 along with his wife Meenakshi Gupta and a few friends. Goonj is an NGO that undertakes community development, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief in 22 states across India. It uses the discarded and underutilised material towards fulfilling the very basic needs and developmental issues of rural India which are often ignored. It tries to disintegrate the tradition of giving up old things as charity and reposition it as dignified giving. In 2015, Anshu Gupta was awarded with prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. Schwab Foundation (World Economic Forum) named him India’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2012.
Bunker is an educator and a social activist who founded ‘Barefoot College’ in 1972. It is a volunteer based organisation working for the rural people by making impact in the fields of vocational development, education, women empowerment,health, water availability, and electrification using solar power. TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People acknowledged that the organisation has trained and educated more than 30 lakh people for modern jobs. The programme at Barefoot College is inspired by Gandhian philosophy of self-reliant villages. In a 6-month training program, the college trains students like poor women from rural areas in skills like building, installing, and repairing water pumps and solar lamps. Barefoot College aims to tackle inequality and poverty by equipping the people with basic but effective survival skills which could eliminate the dependence on hired people to do such jobs. Guardian named Roy amongst the 50 environmentalists capable to save the planet.
Educated at IIT Kharagpur and University of Massachusetts Lowell, Harish Hande founded ‘SELCO INDIA’ in 1995 with a funding of Rs. 15,000 from his co-founder Neville Williams. It is a for-profit social initiative which aims at improving the living standards of poverty-stricken households through solar energy and other such sustainable energy based services and interventions. Starting with a unique financial model, SELCO charged 25% of the cost from each customer as down payment and rest in the form of monthly installments. This was not only affordable but also compatible with the usual monthly budget of families in the region. Also, this came with a year’s guarantee along with free maintenance service for a year.Ninety-day money back guarantee was another feature of this model. Karnataka Government awarded Hande with Rajyotsava Prashasti in 2011. He was also awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award the same year. His prime goal has always been to eradicate poverty.
Chetna Gala Sinha
Chetna Sinha is the founder of ‘Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank’, a micro-finance bank providing banking services and credit to women in rural areas. Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank was the first bank in the country for and by rural women to get a cooperative license from RBI. Today over 3,10,000 women gain financial and emotional backing from this bank. The Mann Deshi Foundation also runs financial literacy classes, where women are taught the skills of savings, investing, insurances, and loans through modules that comprise games like Monopoly. She has been working towards empowering women in the drought prone areas by training them in entrepreneurial skills and providing them access to land and other means of production. She also co-chaired the 48th Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum as a part of an exclusive seven-woman team in January 2018. Chetna Sinha is a Schwab Fellow, Yale Fellow, and Ashoka Fellow.
Taking a plunge into the risk taking ventures with no assured success and profits is the essence of social entrepreneurship. The only motivation for such individuals is the humane calling of their souls and enterprise of their minds.
Also, check out the Inspiring stories of the Bravery Award Winners.