Social Entrepreneurs Aim for India and Pakistan
According to Wikipedia definition, a social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Unlike a business entrepreneur who typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact s/he has on society. While social entrepreneurs often work through nonprofits and citizen groups, many work in the private and governmental sectors.
The main aim of a social entrepreneurship as well as social enterprise is to further social and environmental goals. This need not be incompatible with making a profit, but social entrepreneurs are often non-profits. Social enterprises are for ‘more-than-profit’.
In addition to their inner desire to help others while also helping themselves, what has encouraged such entrepreneurs is the successful penetration of the mobile phones among the poor in India and Pakistan, many of whom subsist on less than a dollar a day. The rapid growth of cell phones among the rural poor in South Asia has shown that even the poorest of the poor are willing to offer several months' earnings for the benefit of connectivity. By doing so, they have demonstrated their potential as consumers of affordable products that offer them real benefits, such as a glass of safe drinking water and a bright source of light at night.
Safe, Clean Water for the Masses
Saafwater, Inc. is a startup helping people in Karachi, Pakistan with access to safe drinking water. The company founders, Sarah Bird, Saira Khwaja and Khalid Saiduddin, emerged as finalists in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 100k Entrepreneurship Competition in 2007, and received $10,000 to put the concept of SaafWater into practice.
The company's first product is SaafWater Daily Capsule - a simple capsule of chlorine solution that can treat one family’s daily supply of drinking water. SaafWater’s mission is to provide affordable clean water to low-income communities in urban areas. Their goal is to create a profitable distribution network that can supply billions of people with clean water.
The company has worked closely with the US Centers for Disease Control’s Safe Water System which has been responsible for pioneering this technology and reaching an estimated 16 million users worldwide. With their help the company has learned from their experiences and to ensure that it meets all the relevant World Health Organization Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.
Going door-to-door, SaafWater representatives sell daily chlorine capsules, which can be immersed in a family’s water container rendering the supply free of contaminants in 30 minutes. Sales representatives offer a week’s supply for about 30 rupees, the rough equivalent of U.S. 40 cents. SaafWater also plans to launch independent programs with existing NGOs to help create self-sustaining water purification programs throughout Pakistan.
Saafwater's vision is to build and extend this network to include many other life-saving and life-enhancing products such as clean-burning fuels, sanitation, renewable electricity, refrigeration, eye-glasses, multi-vitamins for mothers and children, and construction materials to name but a few.
Bright Light for Night
D.light, founded by two Stanford graduates, marries next-generation light-emitting diodes (LEDs), proprietary power-management tools, and increasingly cheap solar panels. The founders, Nedjip Tozun and Sam Goldman, attended Professor Jim Patell's Stanford Business School class called Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability, highlighted recently by Fortune Magazine.
As a result, D.light is able to offer poor communities an affordable alternative to kerosene, which is ubiquitous but hazardous. The quality of the kerosene lamp light isn't good, it emits pollutants, and it's just plain dangerous. "You travel around these villages, and everyone has a story of a child being burned or a house destroyed by fire," says Tozun, speaking to Fortune by phone from his office in Shenzhen, China. "And yet in some places we found that people were spending 15% to 20% of their income on light." The world's poor spend about $38 billion a year on kerosene for lighting, according to the International Finance Corp.
According to Fortune magazine, the D.light lamps sell for about $25, steep for someone earning $1 per day, but the D.light team quickly found that the quality of light was so good that people with the D.light lamps were able to do more work at night and increase their income. Two families in New Keringa, a village of 47 families in southern India, took the plunge on D.light lamps. Says Tozun: "All of a sudden the two families were able to work at night," mostly weaving banana leaves into plates. "Their average monthly income increased from $12 to $18, and they could save the time spent traveling to buy more kerosene." Within a few days the entire village had sprung for the lights. "These people are great customers if you give them a clear value proposition," Tozun says.
In November, D.light raised $6 million in venture capital funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Garage Technology Ventures, among other venture capital firms, to ramp up production and get its lamps into markets, initially in India and Africa.
Empowering would-be customers is one of the mantras of Patell's class at Stanford. Each year some students, like Goldman and Tozun, take their ideas and try to build businesses. Patell doesn't expect every student to start a company, but he does demand that every product in the class offer poor consumers tools for their own microenterprises. "We want to design things so that a farmer can decide to leave his farm and support his family selling water pumps or drip-irrigation tubing," Patell says. "We want things to be sold at a price that covers the cost of manufacturing and distribution."
The need and the opportunity for social entrepreneurs have never been greater. Both SaafWater and D.light are examples of what the institutions of higher learning can do to encourage such entrepreneurship catering to the needs of the billions of poor people in Africa, Latin America and South Asia who can potentially become a huge new lucrative market. What is needed is for the budding entrepreneurs to recognize such opportunities to offer highly useful and essential products at extremely affordable prices. Educational institutions in Pakistan and India can and should play a leading role to encourage and prepare them to do good and do well, and investors should open their minds to see the great opportunities that lie ahead for them to make good returns on such investments.
Supporting Youth Entrepreneurship
iGenius Goes Big in Pakistan
India's Innovative Social Entrepreneurs
Youth Engagement Services (YES) Network in Pakistan
Water Shortage in Pakistan
United Nations World Water Development Report
Water Resource Management in Pakistan
Water Supply and Sanitation in Pakistan
Light a Candle, Do Not Curse Darkness
Safe Drinking water and Hygiene Promotion in Pakistan
UN Millennium Development Goals in Pakistani Village
Orangi Pilot Project
Three Cups of Tea
Volunteerism in America
Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan's Vision