My Story Of Building A Social Enterprise

by | Jan 6, 2023

Social Enterprise…

The moment I hear the term, my mind thinks of a non profit organization (also called NGO). Social development landscape has made much progress.It is time we redefine what we consider NGO or a social enterprise. Looking at the term itself, a question might arise – are there asocial enterprises?

Are for-profit companies not driven by a social purpose? Essentially, they contribute towards livelihoods for billions of people across the planet. Why do we typically not consider them as a social enterprise? Let’s look at the most well-known of these terms – NGO (Non-Government Organization).

It is mainly established to cater to the citizens who would require assistance of fellow citizens to facilitate progress, primarily associated with their basic needs. So why we don’t consider the for-profit companies as NGOs? Primarily, because the main purpose of a for-profit is to generate profit with little value addition to the societal landscape around. Generating jobs for people is an outcome in that process of profit generation.

The next question I was pondering upon is whether there is a difference between NGO and a social enterprise? Can the latter generate revenue and can one divide the profits amongst shareholders? Yes, and yes. Anything that has a social purpose can come under the category of social enterprise. For instance, a company that believes in solar panels as a way to conserve energy. Or a mobile application that simplifies insurance subscription amongst poor and middle-class income families. Even an e-commerce shop that sells biodegradable plastic. So, to clarify again:

  • Nestle is a for-profit because primary motive is profit making
  • Child Rights & You – CRY is a non-profit because primary motive is social good and do not make profit.
  • Selco (a company invested in bringing solar energy benefits) is a social enterprise. A social enterprise can be a for-profit or a non-profit. In Selco’s case, it is a for-profit

Through my blogs, I want to take you through my journey of  building a social enterprise. I still wouldn’t call it successful because I’ve been trying to build it for the past four years. As of now, I feel confident in my efforts for the first time ever. I live in Hyderabad. I dropped out of my masters program in International Business from a German university. To pursue my deep-rooted passion to build something noble and meaningful. I run eLekha. It is a platform for citizens to voice their grievances in a way that they are accessible by the socio-political leaders and they can act upon it.

Currently, an India Fellow, I got an opportunity of a lifetime to dip my feet into the civil society landscape. Being on the path of building a solution around an identified problem, I want to share my learning with you. To begin with, at the risk of sounding arrogant coupled with grandiose, I would like to quote myself.

“Every social issue is deep rooted in the policy laid out by the state”

A good example for this is the “Balika Panchayat” program that Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan designed in Kutch, Gujarat. The program has been highly successful in achieving a deep-rooted impact within the Kutch region. They are now rolling it out across the country, with the support of Union Minister for Women and Child Development. You could refer to their efforts and progress in this article.

Of course we can also cull out bad examples and spend days discussing them. 

We all can identify grave issues like caste discrimination, violence, gender inequity. But as a social entrepreneur and enabler, we have to be selective about the problems we identify and take up. This is to avoid falling prey to our own thoughts. Also, as a solution oriented person, I realize that I need to avoid broad terms such as gender inequity. These are often used as blanket statements to explain a social issue. The actual symptoms are much deeper and one can articulte it more simply, if not easily.

A process that I have identified to navigate through these complex social issues is to understand what part of the solution I am. Am I seeking to make things easier as an active citizen, or as a member of civil society? The moment you find your meaning in either of these roles, you will be in a better situation to assess the problem. 

I picked to work around government policies. Because no other institution has the power or authority to influence people for better or worse than a government. Understanding this brings an enormous amount of relief. Now I don’t have to take the pressure of doing it all. Be it as an active citizen or a as a member of civil society, I can play my role of an enabler and leave the rest up to policy makers.

Take a moment to think about the kind of social enterprise you would like to build, if at all. If you’re thinking of a solution that already fits your perception for a given problem, then maybe you need to take some time. I’m only saying this with utmost respect because even the greatest solutions have limits on their potential due to the socio-political structures in place. A better idea would be to start with understanding the problem. By being curious about different ways in order to reach a solution.

To limit my share, I’d conclude my thoughts with this. In the next blog, I’ll also bring in a few activities and resources to enhance your learning experience. The next post will be about the importance of policy. I’ll talk about how to assess them from a lens of a solution oriented person.

Until then, stay empowered, stay you.

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