Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The new face of Social Enterprise in India (III of IV)

Continuing with our journey through some of the most admired social entrepreneurial ventures across India and Pakistan, this last part of this series once again visits some of the ventures in India that have decided to take the unusual route to redefine the Social Enterprise.

Barefoot College:

Established by Bunker Roy, this unique set-up in Tilonia, Rajasthan, has become an example for the world. This Doon School passout is a very humble, down-to-earth man who loves the village and wants to transform it into a model for the entire world to emulate. When we were at TIlonia, the village people were very excited to greet us with the beats of dhol at the station. In this land, where scarcity of water is a major problem, a 5th grade passout, middle aged woman handles the water management for about 200 villages through her computer. This was shocking enough for us to create enthusiasm and excitement to know more about the college. Bunker Roy introduced us to the various facets of his venture whose major focus is to train the locals in various fields of specialization for which we thought that professional degrees were a must. These trained villagers are the youth and the women who would otherwise have had no choice but move to the cities to earn a livelihood. The trained villagers are not awarded any degree or certificate, but they are trained to live in the village and practice. We met several Barefoot Engineers, Barefoot Doctors and Barefoot Architects during our visit. It was heartening to see two women who have been trained on welding skills, earn more than their husbands by making Solar Dishes and selling them out for about Rs. 25,000 each. No wonder that the Barefoot College has been recognized as Social Work and Research Center and has won numerous awards across the world. Besides equipping its own citizens, Barefoot College has been assigned the task of training women from African region as well. Women from the remotest parts of the world who do not understand the language of the villagers (just like the villagers don’t understand theirs) are sponsored by the government of India to visit, stay and learn the skills to earn a livelihood for themselves, back in their native countries.

I must say that to make India a super-power, more of Barefoot Colleges need to set up to give a confidence boost to the villages and reduce the wealth disparity that is always seen as a hindrance for India to achieve that goal. (Visit: http://www.barefootcollege.org)

Jaipur Foot:

Jaipur Foot is a live example of the level of motivation that can be provided by a cause. Mr. Ram Chander Sharma revolutionized the limb technology through his development of the artificial legs that have been categorized as good as the original ones except that they do not have blood. But the idea was put into the venture form by Mr D.R. Mehta who has recently been awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Govt. of India. Jaipur Foot, with technical assistance from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) developed these limbs from very cheap but sustainable material that wasn’t used elsewhere in the limb industry. The major motive for the development of Jaipur Foot was to help the people in the war affected areas or border areas where the land mines were not removed and hundreds of innocent people turned handicapped because of them. This technology helps them regain not only their legs, but also their confidence and their ability to stand on their feet – literally and metamorphically. As compared to the cost of below the knee prosthesis in US which stands at around $2,500, this technology has reduced it to a drastically lower price of $30. At this cost, the Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahayata Samiti is fitting about 20,000 artificial limbs every year besides 30,000 Polio Calipers and the other appliances fitted through their camps. The vision of Mr. Mehta is changing the way people walk and helping India to walk on the path of success and self-dependence. (Visit: http://www.jaipurfoot.org)

The Social Entrepreneurial ventures discussed in this series are, by no measure, the only or the best performing enterprises in India and Pakistan. But they represent a broad sense of changing preferences for the residents of these countries. Given the levels of poverty, corruption, illiteracy, lack of self-confidence, non-resourcefulness and healthcare, we need many such motivated organizations and role models to lead the sub-continent to the role of leadership on the world map. We salute the spirit of the patrons who have given up the luxuries of life to serve the people of the nation through whatever means they had.

(Article originally written for Youth Ki Awaaz, published at http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2010/01/the-new-face-of-social-enterprise-india-part-iii/)

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