A case for Social Entrepreneurship

To me, it is just hard to fathom how on one hand we have global corporations with close to trillion dollar valuations and on the other, our societies all over the world are becoming more inequitable every day. And I can’t understand why the new-age entrepreneurship, that does so well in spurning billion-dollar unicorns, fails to a large extent when it comes to solving social issues.

Everyday, we come across so many social problems around us. Issues like unchecked violence, large-scale environmental destruction, massive unemployment, low access to quality education are all out there, seeping deeper into our collective conscience every single day.

Of course, there’s good stuff happening too. Now and then, we come across stories of entrepreneurs finding opportunities in challenges and making it big despite all odds. Even rarer are stories of those entrepreneurs who work tirelessly and selflessly to solve daunting social issues. I am here to make a case for these so-called social entrepreneurs, that our society so immediately and desperately needs. 

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

In the 1970s, Muhammad Yunus pioneered the concept of micro-financing in the then underdeveloped nation of Bangladesh by providing small, short-term loans to poor people who were previously dependent upon usurious moneylenders for financing. With his Grameen Bank, he showed how lending to those without collateral is also a viable business model. Since then, the bank has lent >$6bn and brought millions of underserved people out of the misery of poverty.

The reason I am using this example is quite simple – to demonstrate how acute business sense can be applied to a social problem to create a profitable business. Mr. Yunus not only identified the challenge that poor people were being charged enormous interest rates by moneylenders, but also solved it by creating a system that made access to credit simple and beneficial for those who most needed it. 

So, what exactly is social entrepreneurship? As per the institute for social entrepreneurs – “it is the art of simultaneously pursuing both financial and social return on investment (the double bottom line)”. And that sums it up quite nicely.

Why talk about it? 

Our society is changing. Work is changing. Technology is bringing in huge automation, making human-centered jobs largely meaningless. Gig economy is making job security a redundant concept. We millennials (and upcoming generations) want to live in a better society, one that is happier and more equitable. 

And that’s why, we need social entrepreneurship to come to the fore. And we need this to happen now. We need the best of our brains to eradicate social injustice, not to find ways to sell more on behalf of these humongous organizations. 

Indian Education system : A social entrepreneur’s dream challenge

We all have gone through the Indian education system, and we all know that it is archaic and very much in need of a structural revolution. In the last few years, many companies have leveraged the mobile phone revolution to bring quality education to the previously unserved. Unfortunately, they have largely worked in the for-profit domain to marginally improve on the existing system of rote-learning and theoretical knowledge. The gap still remains wide open for any entrepreneur willing to undertake the massive challenge of bringing this system to the 21st century, and make our current and upcoming generations future-ready. Afterall, generational leaps in any system take many generations to happen.

iTinker : A social entrepreneur’s novel solution 

I spent the last four years in a role that placed me in the country with the best education system in the world – Finland. There I got a front-seat view on understanding Finnish system’s effectiveness in creating socially-conscious and productive members of society. And my conclusion was fairly simple – Finnish people create ecosystems where children are encouraged to experiment and fail, where they’re exposed to the companies that are building the economy. An ecosystem where they are aware of what the future holds in store for them!

I, like almost every other child of my generation, grew up without these things, and the path I carved out for myself was as much luck as it was hard work. But it doesn’t have to be this difficult now – technology can be put to some good use, for once.

And so I came back to India a few months ago, and started 3D WE, a social enterprise, aimed precisely at solving this problem. And I believe we have now, with our product iTinker.

Learn, Communicate, Participate – Tinker

iTinker is a solution with a singular focus – to make our children future-ready. And for that, it borrows from the best systems out there – be it technology, content or processes. I strongly believe that any thriving community (like open source technologies) stands on three important pillars – learn, communicate and participate. Meaning that it provides its participants the opportunities for learning from engaging courses, social communication and periodic competitions. 

And with iTinker, my team and I have done just that. Provide school students a platform (both online and in-person) where they can discuss, openly & informally, topics around future technologies and their impact on the society in the upcoming decades. And make better life choices on the basis of information, they are able to share with one another.

I would like to conclude my thoughts with words that I often say to the children I interact with – Try.Fail.Repeat.

Author – Ashish Jain

Founder & Chief Happiness Officer at 3D WE