They are small, smart and socially responsible. They are dynamic, growing and profitable too. Most importantly, they are becoming a critical link between developing economies as they increase business links with each other.
These are social entrepreneurs who are now growing rapidly across Asia and Africa. Supported by private and government initiatives, social entrepreneurs are now sharing ideas and business plans with each other to create sustainable and ethical international enterprises. The models by the entrepreneurs are market savvy but also replicable in developing countries.
Indian social entrepreneurs have found an encouraging platform in an initiative supported by the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs. As part of “IndiAfrica: A Shared Future” outreach programme run by theIdeaWorks, social entrepreneurs from India are going to different countries in Africa and sharing business ideas with regional entrepreneurs.
Some of the Indian entreprenuers who are taking their models to Africa include Harminder Sahni, CEO of Wazir Advisors who runs a village factory in Mewat region in Northwest India. In this model, village women are trained to produce garments in a rudimentary facility within the village. The work is structured in a such a way that it creates additional income for them without interfering with their family life. Garment companies get quality products at half the cost.
Another such entrepreneur, Ankit Mathur, is co-founder and COO of Greenway Grameen Infra who has developed an affordable cooking stove for use in villages. He already sells about 1,000 units a month in India for Rs 1,200 and is now working on opportunities in Africa. Ankit won the Businessworld Young Entrepreneur Award, 2011. Similarly, Sairee Chahal co-founder of Fleximoms is helping young mothers in India find jobs that allow them to work from home. As African countries urbanise and the society changes, her model will find a lot of traction. Sairee says that the need to be financially independent is the same for young mothers across continents.
Many African social entrepreneurs I met are developing opportunities and partnerships in India.
The most celebrated of these is Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and CEO of soleRebels, a young footwear company based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Bethlehem is walking the talk on being socially responsible and is a business success. She received the Social Entrepreneur of The Year Award at the 2012 World Economic Forum on Africa from The Schwab Foundation. SoleRebels maintains and monitors fair trade standards while manufacturing ecologically safe footwear that is now being sold online across the world.
Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu is a leading Nigerian social entrepreneur and rural natural resources management expert, an Ashoka Fellow, and Rolex Young Laureate 2010. He is committed to promoting sustainable agricultural and environmental management.
Lagos-based Ayodeji Megbope, is the CEO of No Left Overs a full scale women based catering service. She started with a takeoff capital of N1,000 (GBP 4, USD 6), but now generates employment for hundreds of women. And then there is Niyi Oguntoyinbo who has organised the taxi service in Lagos by launching Metro Taxi. It is a radio taxi service that trains employed youth to become skilled drivers.
Entrepreneurs like these don’t feel limited by the scope of growth in their own countries. They want to learn and share with the best minds from other developing countries. As linkages between African and Indian social entrepreneurs strengthen, they will form the benchmark for more such partnerships.
These will be the foundation for creating the next generation of socially responsible global corporate giants.
This was published in Business World