Realizations about social entrepreneurship

By Emily Foley

My field placement with Sattva mirrors my interests in being socially-minded, empathetic, business oriented, and taking care of the environment. Sattva believes that “addressing complex societal challenges requires a fundamental shift in the way businesses, societies, governments and other stakeholders engage with each other.” I often thought that any thing “good”-like development and environmental protection- came only with trade offs; that individuals, villages, cities, and countries must decide between a few practical trajectories, based on their preferences, government, and culture. Global Social Entrepreneurship and Sattva challenge this view and seek solutions that do not require tradeoffs.

Social Entrepreneurs realize that the systems that we live in are man made and can therefore be changed, albeit gradually. Just because businesses have historically used inexpensive labor and perpetuate class and Dalit[1] oppression, does not justify its continuation. Social Enterprises reject  “what is” and create new systems that account for all stakeholders. In economics this may be explained as internalizing negative externalities- but here, at Sattva, and more largely, the social sector in Bangalore, it is more than that. It is creating an entirely new system: A new set of relationships, responsibility, accountability and expectations between various members of society.

Although we studied social enterprises in the seminar component of GSE and we are already a month into our field experience, I think I am just beginning to understand what it means to be a social entrepreneur. My work at Sattva, involves writing, communicating, and documenting the Inaugural National Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Conclave that Sattva, BSE and IICA (Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs) has organized. I also report on Sattva’s knowledge creation.

Photo Courtesy of Sattva Media

Photo Courtesy of Sattva Media

This experience has exposed me to concepts, people, ideas, and problems I never imagined existed. In fact, before my classes at Wooster (both Local and Global SE) I didn’t know much about the social sector. For example, for the Conclave, I wrote a blurb about a social security exchange called Sammaan. It is exactly what you think – New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) meets Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The development of a social exchange, something that is difficult to imagine in the US, is something that Indian institutions are taking seriously. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), BSE and Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA) created Sammann, a platform that would bridge the accountability gap between corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and NGOs. Corporate India will spend up to 2% of their average net profits as required by the landmark CSR law. As per a recent analysis done by BSE, there are 1,294 companies listed on its exchange that are required to spend nearly Rs.7,800 crores on CSR activities in the FY’16. This exchange can bring together social entrepreneurs and corporate business leaders to adopt common accountability systems and to connect “investors” with social enterprise. The exchange is a tangible display of a social enterprise innovation.

The purpose of a social exchange goes beyond compliance of the National CSR Act. The exchange, and exchanges like Sammaan, seek to create a marketplace for NGOs and corporates to efficiently connect, collaborate and achieve greater social impact. It also serves as a place for impact investors to finance social projects that best correspond with ones social values. Social Stock Exchanges vet corporations, NGOs and investors based on standardized criteria to promote transparency. The social projects must be both profitable and socially sustainable for partnerships and investments to last. All parties, expect a return on their investment but are willing adjust their time horizon to see social impact. Despite the promises of these exchanges and the CSR law, one must be weary that all parties are executing their claims and that plentiful reporting and documentation of effectiveness and impact take place. That being said, a CSR platform like Sammaan or a social exchange has the potential to change the way social change is funded.

Through my work at Sattva and the academic meetings we have had on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I see that social enterprises and businesses are taking a step towards one another. These two distinct organizations are beginning to recognize their own shortfalls and each other’s strengths. A stereotype is, corporation’s optimize resource use and non-profit’s typically excel at community engagement. This creates an opportunity for hybrid social enterprises. Bangalore is a breeding ground for these mission driven corporations and social enterprises due to the entrepreneurial spirit of the city as well as the immense need for change. The recent CSR law has changed the landscape. My role as an intern in the social sector of Bangalore, although just a small part of this greater ecosystem, has enlightened and deepened my understanding of social entrepreneurship, the social sector, and the role organizations and laws play in creating favorable social and environmental impact.

[1] Dalit, as explained by Nandan Nilekani, “was a self-adopted title of the “scheduled castes” and means “a broken people,”” (Imagining India, 144).

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