Business and the art of giving
A new book offers a management framework for social entrepreneurship
As income and wealth disparity rise, so does activity in the social sector. Let us welcome the attention, rather than question the motives. Social giving has been around since time immemorial. However, the last decade or so has seen an increasing role of the private sector in social sectors. It is a logical extension that management gurus guide the players in this sector as well.
Roger L Martin is a globally acclaimed expert on Strategy and is associated with the Skoll Foundation (http://www.skoll.org) dedicated to social entrepreneurship. A website visit is highly recommended. Co-author Sally R Osberg is the president and CEO of Skoll. It is a high-profile and highly qualified team that’s sharing its thoughts on social entrepreneurship. The authors approach the subject of social entrepreneurship in a precise management school manner backed with experience and expertise.
In life, we have two choices. The first is to accept the present. Crib. Carry on with life. The second is to find a way to change it. Change is not easy. The existing societal framework has many groups feeding on the structure and thriving in it.
Change would impact one or more of the ‘vested’ interest group and is, therefore, hard to overcome. A way has to be found that can make it happen in spite of them. Social entrepreneurs are those who find a way to crack this code and bring about change that benefits a large number of people. Think of change that is far-reaching. Maybe it is a commercial motive that drives you.
The book starts with the example of Gutenberg. How his printing press changed the world enabling the spread of knowledge far and wide through the print medium. Before the printed word, knowledge was limited to an elite few. Education is perhaps the biggest vehicle of change.
The book has some good examples of those who changed things. The example of Vicky Colbert, who changed the way of education in Columbia is an inspiration for every entrepreneur. The book traces her journey, the road blocks, her strategies and the lessons that are distilled into a framework for entrepreneurs in making.
The authors present a four-step path to entrepreneurial success. First is to understand the issue. Most often, NGOs and other social do-gooders come with their own templates and thrust them on the underprivileged.
Often, it does not work. Without understanding the realities on the ground, change cannot, and should not be attempted. The second stage is to build a route map or what they call as ‘envision’. Map out a working plan or as management jargon goes, have a strategy in place to achieve your goal.
The third stage is to “build” where the social entrepreneur builds the actual working model. The authors take us through the example of the founder of Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, who worked out the elegant model of community borrowing programmes through microfinance, where even one person defaulting becomes a pressure on the borrower group and hence they all remain faithful in repayment. The fourth stage is “scale”. In other words, we cannot build a business model that is limited to one area, region or a small circle of influence. It should be capable of being replicated and expanded.
A new framework
To my understanding, this book is a first in terms of providing a management style framework for social entrepreneurship. The pedigree and the work gone into this is remarkable. The examples are inspirational. Of how Molly Melching created a ‘new equilibrium’ that resulted in a nation abandoning a practice of female genital cutting.
Andrea and Barry Coleman are motorcycle racers who brought about a remarkable change in the healthcare systems in Gambia and are now expanding these to other countries. They identified that the big gap in healthcare delivery was bogged down by a constant breakdown of medical transportation vehicles. They went about improving the maintenance and availability of the medical transportation system which resulted in a manifold increase in the effectiveness of healthcare. They set up ‘Riders for Health’ (http://www.riders.org) whose simply stated mission is this: ‘Riders for Health manages motorcycles, ambulances and other four-wheel vehicles used in the delivery of health care in seven countries across Africa.’
They identified the problem, found an elegant solution and also made it commercially viable.
Then, there is the ‘One Acre Fund’ which enables small plot farmers to increase the value of crops grown by improved productivity, lower input costs and easier availability of finance.
Having said that
The authors have three examples from India — Nobel prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, who found an effective way to reduce child labour in the weaving sector by encouraging customers to buy only those carpets that do not use ‘child labour’ by providing a certification method, through ‘Goodweave’.
They have chosen the UIDAI project of Nandan Nilekani and Pratham set up by Madhav Chavan. This is also an indication that the authors are contemporary and have focused only on the recent 10 to 15 years.
At a personal level one may have a view on whether UIDAI is worthy of inclusion in this book. To me, more glaring is the omission of something such as AMUL. Either the authors were not aware of AMUL or they have strong reasons.
This book is required reading for everyone who wishes to be a change agent for society. It will enable you to make your plans and help your mind to be aligned with your heart.
The reviewer is a Chennai-based financial consultant