Did you hear the term “social enterprise” yet? This concept of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship has received much attention since late 70’s. What is it that is so explicitly social about any particular enterprise? Every company that is organized for a commercial purpose is an enterprise, and every enterprise strives to add some or the other value to the society, ergo a social enterprise. Isn’t it implicit? Isn’t terming an enterprise “social” just a branding strategy? Would you call your Khadi Gram Udhyog unit a social enterprise? Oh why do I ask, you yourself are a master at this.
Anyways, the reason why I ask all this is because I am now a part of an organization that calls itself a social enterprise. Trying to understand whether it’s an advantage to be called a social enterprise or if it binds the strengths of a firm and creates unnecessary impediments. A proper profit-making capitalist firm seems to hold the capacity to have a greater impact than an enterprise bounded by self-created encumbrances. You liked the Birlas more right? Lets see, I have an year more to figure this out.
Maybe, as per the popular perception, any enterprise that consciously tries and whose central theme is about fixing a social problem is a social enterprise. The issue that my organization perceives as a problem is the threat of extinction that the social fabric of rural life faces. We believe that the values that rural India represents-community living, living in sync with nature, a life of contentment; is worth preserving, and that it has to be saved from the onslaught of the consumerist culture propounded by the city life, if the society has to last longer. The country has been witnessing a disproportionate rise in migrations from rural to urban in recent past. But I doubt it man, I wonder if it’s a recent phenomenon or this has been the case ever since the rise of cities in human society. I guess it’s just population explosion coupled with the revolution in information technology that is making the figures look so scary. Ultimately, everything comes down to population, isn’t it? Plato was so right!
Back to the problem-sustenance of rural lifestyle. How do we fix it? By creating sustainable livelihoods and developing basic infrastructure in the villages. “Sustainable communities” is our tagline. We also have an NGO wing that works in partnership with the government, CSR wings of corporate companies, and various other development organisations in implementing things at grass root level. We operate around the principle of “shared prosperity”. More about that later.
Our office is set up in the 8th floor of a corporate building (like the ones in Hyderabad’s Hitec city) in the outskirts of the national capital. A typical corporate style glass building, exactly the place I didn’t want to be in. People with soulless eyes, formal attire, complaining minds … Did I say complaining? The irony! To be fair, it’s not all that gloomy. There were people in my office who seemed to be driven solely by passion and had a purpose other than just making money in their lives; like 4-5 people. The work culture is pretty horizontal – no separate cabins for the top management. We believe in the bottom up approach. It’s just the building that left a disappointing first impression on me. Damn the first impressions!
Thankfully, that building was not to be my work place. I am assigned to a project on vegetable supply chain and will be based in Gohana for the next few months. As you know, agriculture has always been a prominent sector of our economy and still accounts for about 54.6 percent of total employment. Interestingly, this decade’s census showed a decrease in the absolute number of cultivators in the country, which is unprecedented, from 127 million (2000-01) to 118 million (2011-12). I don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative sign for a 21st century economy. But to a country with a population of 1.2 billion, that is aggressively mechanizing, this might be too early. What will absorb the displaced labor? Even the government feels there is an urgent need to make agriculture more farmer-friendly and one thing that we identified as a major bottleneck to the progress of agriculture in the country is the Mandi system that came into existence with the APMC act. Although the mandis have contributed to the growth of agriculture greatly, most people think the system has served its time. The Mandi bharath is a long story, lets keep that and my project for a separate discussion.
Gohana is a medium-sized town in the Sonipat district of Haryana – a state with 80% of its land under cultivation. Man, how big was the forest that was burnt down by Arjun? One can see acres and acres of fields with Basmati crop as far as the eye can see on either side of the highways while travelling through the state. An extensively irrigated state, with canals everywhere. The people here are hardworking, well-built, a bit arrogant, and in general, content with their farming life. They seem to be obsessed with milk and milk products. Nobody eats a roti without butter on it. They grow all the basmati in the world, but then they don’t eat much rice. What’s wrong with these people?
Haryana is one of the most prosperous regions in agriculture in India. However, every time I sit with a group of villagers, the one question that I encountered all the time is – “kya scheme laaye ho bhai?”. The farmer of one of the most fertile regions in the world, ask him if he is facing any problems in farming, he says “bhai, khethi mein bass dhikkate hee dhikkate hai”. He wants a subsidy on seeds, subsidy on tractor, subsidy on fertilizers, on insecticides, pesticides, on bloody electricity, on a poly house, interest free loans … Why this dependence? Did you ask your heir yet, why he strayed from your idea of village republics after independence or is he in the other house?
By the way, I’ve ordered the book on your naked ambition.