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Schwab prizes for social work

India’s thriving social sector is changing fast, adapting market-oriented approaches to improve the lives of some of the poorest in the land, in a way that does not depend on iffy handouts from the next donor.

india Updated: Nov 06, 2009 01:41 IST
Gargi Gupta

India’s thriving social sector is changing fast, adapting market-oriented approaches to improve the lives of some of the poorest in the land, in a way that does not depend on iffy handouts from the next donor. So you have social entrepreneurs, not social workers; NPOs, non-profit organisations, and not NGOs, being funded by “venture philanthropists”, not venture capitalists, who are looking for a “social rate of return”, not just “return on investment”.

Vivian Gee, head of Asia, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, an organisation headquartered in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland to foster social entrepreneurship, tentatively calls them “social workers 2.0”. “Social entrepreneurs support their long-term socio-economic or environmental goals by creatively building financial sustainability into their organisation’s strategic model,” she explains.

The Schwab Foundation, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been giving out the annual “social entrepreneur of the year” award since 2005. This year the award, which will be conferred at the World Economic Forum’s India meet in Delhi this weekend, will be given to three social entrepreneurs — Rajendra Joshi (Ahmedabad, SAATH), Brij Kothari (Puducherry, PlanetRead) and Padmanabha and Rama Rao (RIVER, Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh). The formal announcement is expected Monday.

Earlier awardees include Devi Shetty (telemedicine), SELCO (rural solar electrification) and Vikram Akula (microfinance).
Social entrepreneurship is, of course, not new to India — think of Amul, which started as a cooperative of milk producers in Gujarat, or Ela Bhat’s SEWA or FabIndia. But the numbers are growing fast, concedes Patrice Coeur-Bizot, resident representative of UNDP.

“It is difficult to judge the scale, but there are thousands. Increasingly, we are seeing these (social entrepreneurship) approaches in areas such as health, education, agriculture and renewable energy.”

“We often receive the highest number of applicants from India for our Social Entrepreneur of the Year competition,” says Gee.

Tomorrow: Profile of one of the winners of this year’s award