“Not everyone can be Gandhi, but each of us has the power to make sure our own lives count – and it’s those millions of lives that will ultimately build a better world.” – Jeffery Skoll
It was some years back when I came across the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, popularly known as the man who wore sanitary napkins that intrigued me to study more about him and his work. He comes from a poor family in South India and is a school dropout who has revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing the simple machine which can produce very reasonable sanitary pads. While his work is incredible and admirable, there are several others who are not only innovating but are innovating for the betterment of society.
It is definitely commendable to build a successful business of any kind, but there are some entrepreneurs who do more than making profits. These are the ones known as social entrepreneurs who use their skills and talents to make the world a better place. They help in bringing together resources, training, opportunities and assets to those in our world who are deprived of them, by using the traditional business model to bring about social changes.
While the term social entrepreneur or social entrepreneurship is not new, it is still a nascent field that is growing rapidly by attracting attention across all the sectors. The main reason for its popularity is the stories of why and how these social entrepreneurs did what they do, against all the odds. And so I would like to highlight some of these social entrepreneurs for whom bottom line has hardly any importance.
Sanjit “Bunker” Roy
Founder of the Barefoot College and one of the most influential people as recognised by TIME magazine in 2010, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy is an Indian social activist and an educator who has helped thousands in Asia and Africa to learn vital technical skills, life skills and has helped in bringing solar energy to remote villages.
It was when Roy was conducting a survey of 100 drought prone areas in Jharkhand (India) that changed his life, thus dedicating his life to fighting poverty and inequality. He established Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) in 1972 to address rural issues of poverty, water scarcity, education and health. He made it his life mission to empower the rural people by educating them in important life skills such as installing and maintaining water pumps without the need of outside mechanics, providing training as paramedics for local medical treatment, and making their villages sustainable by harnessing solar power thus reducing dependency on kerosene as fuel. These efforts of SWRC led to the birth of Barefoot College which has trained 3 million rural people to be self-sufficient. A major focus of the college is on women’s education and empowerment. In 2012, Barefoot College became the first NGO partner of UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Girl’s and Women’s Education.
We all understand the importance of clean and accessible drinking water in human lives but it was Scott Harrison who made it his life mission. Founder of the non-profit organisation charity: water, Scott Harrison is perhaps one of the most successful social entrepreneurs who has helped millions to have a safe life with clean drinking water.
Harrison had been a nightclub and party promoter for almost 10 years, and it was only after his vacation in Uruguay that brought about a change in his outlook towards life. He volunteered as a photojournalist and spent two years with Mercy Ships, which is a fleet of hospital ships offering free healthcare. During these years he was exposed to extreme conditions of the impoverished Liberia, which made him realise that 80% of the diseases suffered by those people were due to poor sanitation and unsafe water. It was then that he committed himself to the cause of making clean drinking water available to these impoverished regions and founded charity: water. The foundation today has raised more than $100 million dollars and has funded 20,062 projects in 24 countries so far, with the goal to bring clean water to 100 million people by 2020. Charity: water funds eight different kinds of water projects around the world which range from a 40-feet deep hand dug well to rainwater harvesting.
Appalled by the facts that syringe reuse causes more than million deaths in the world, Marc Koska decided to take things into his own hands by inventing K1 Auto-Disable syringe which ensures that re-use is not possible. He is the founder of SafePoint, a charitable organisation which was founded with the sole purpose of educating people and improving healthcare in developing worlds with the top agenda of safe injections.
It was in the year 1984 that Koska read an article predicting the spread of HIV through unsafe injections. Horrified by the prospects that something so easily avoidable is the cause of millions of death, determined him to do something about it. Over the years he studied public health and researched virus transmissions and syringe production. His aim was simple, reducing infections caused by blood borne viruses and the answer to it was again simple, an inexpensive, non-reusable syringe which could be used in same ways as the traditional syringe. The result of this quest was K1 and Star Syringe, which locks down after a single use and also prevents overfilling. This revolutionary innovation has helped the spread of blood-borne diseases and has reduced drug wastage because of over-filling. The K1 (AD) syringe has helped save millions of life. He also realised that safe syringes are not a solution to ignorance and so he founded SafePoint charity to educate the masses on healthcare especially in developing worlds. SafePoint conducted a successful campaign in India in the year 2008, which resulted in making the AD syringe mandatory across the country.
Marc Koska has been honoured with several awards including the Tech Award 2008, Sussex Business Award 2006 and Economist’s Innovation Award 2011.
About 450 babies die every hour around the world and the number goes in millions for the year. Lack of access to incubators is the major reason for the deaths of these premature babies in the developing worlds. Jane Chen is the founder and CEO of Embrace that aims to help the vulnerable babies in developing nations with a low-cost infant warmer.
While she was doing her MBA at Stanford, she and her fellow mates created a low-cost infant incubator that can be used in rural areas of developing nations. Access to incubators is limited because of its high cost and distance, due to which many premature babies die. Embrace infant warmer costs around $200 as against $20,000 of a regular incubator. The device even breaks the barrier of requiring electricity, which is a major concern in remote villages in these countries. The “Thermpod”, as the device is known, carries four to six hours of heat on a single 30-minute charge, thus making it easy to use in hospitals and clinics that have unreliable electricity. It looks like a miniature sleeping bag with no moving parts thus making it safe and portable to use without requiring any sort of additional training on how to use it.
These are just a few of the great heroes who are doing the good business for the betterment of society. While some have inspiring stories behind them, others might just happen to be in the business. Every social entrepreneur is working to bring about solutions to the most critical problems of the world, just as how Bill Drayton, “father of social entrepreneurship” describes it, “The life purpose of the true social entrepreneur is to change the world.”
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