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Just maintain the momentum

To catalyse a social enterprise movement, Satyamev Jayate can't stay outside the sustainable circuits of change-making. Pathik Pathak writes.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2012 21:50 IST

By all measures, Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate (SJ) has been a phenomenal success even though many have criticised it as the venal ego trip of a star looking to bask in the reflected glory of dedicated others. Many others have attacked the show's tele-visual format but the truth is that despite the constraints of the format, SJ had brought social problems into more homes than any other show in Indian television's history.

For reasons such as these and many others, neither Khan nor the show's producers need to worry about an unfinished project with an undefined legacy. The primary concern should be to maintain the momentum that the show has created.

How should it do this? By capitalising on the show's enormous web following and using it to promote more entrepreneurial approaches to solving social problems. On the official SJ site, it measures its impact by the number of "connections" it has enabled, the Twitter and Facebook "impressions" it has generated, and the number of text messages the show received. The show recognises that its strength lies in its capacity to bring different people into communities of interest, and by doing so, to generate a critical mass of change-makers.

Where it could extend this impact would be to encourage this community to move beyond the philanthropic-charitable model it has championed. There are, for example, numerous 'match-funding' schemes for the organisations featured in the show's various episodes. But there are other opportunities it can seize to engage its followers in more creative ways. By doing so, it could enhance the scope and scale of change in India. This involves engaging its self-generated community to move beyond the cult of individual heroes and philanthropic patches to promote entrepreneurial and ultimately sustainable solutions to social problems.

This need not involve everyone abandoning their jobs to start their own social enterprises. Not everyone is - or should be - a social entrepreneur. But everyone should be aware of his/her ability to contribute to entrepreneurial approaches to social issues.

There are many credible social entrepreneurial responses to some of the critical issues raised in SJ - including organic farming, waste management and clean energy solutions. Many of these could benefit from business support, human resources, and technological input. Then there is the category of good ideas that need expert knowledge to transform into working models with long-term, consistent impact.

Community time-bank models have been immensely successful in many places around the world. Why not link SJ's sizeable following to volunteering organisations in major cities (the metros) to enable the kind of skill and knowledge transfer to improve, diffuse and scale social innovations? If time is an issue, organisations such as Milaap allow individuals to provide loans to the working poor in India. These loans go towards providing primary social goods like clean drinking water, sanitation, renewable energy and enterprise development. Such enterprises often go under the radar. Bigger, brasher charity operations hog the media limelight but they don't necessarily have the greatest impact.

If SJ is to have a lasting impact on India's social economy, it cannot afford to stand outside sustainable circuits of change-making. This involves the encouragement of a shift away from a reliance on philanthropic and heroic charity to more entrepreneurial approaches. No one denies that the former two do not have a role to play in India. Social entrepreneurship should not be seen in competition to traditional modes of change-making, but as a viable, sustainable alternative which can complement the truly inspirational work being done in the charity sector.

Pathik Pathak is director, Social Enterprise at the University of Southampton, Britain. The views expressed by the author are personal.