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Why I Like These Social Enterprises – Part 1

Pic: courtesy inthroughit.wordpress.com

It recently struck me that I should start adding a “What I like about <enterprise x>” section to each post. The section would include social metrics the enterprise is purportedly trying to influence. Instead of editing scores of old posts, I decided to do a round-up post, organizing the posts by category.

Agriculture

Our first post in this category (and currently the only one) was Global Easy Water Products‘ (GEWP) journey to profitability and beyond. GEWP sells affordable drip irrigation systems to small plot farmers in 9 Indian states. In their first seven years of operations, they’ve sold to 3 lakh farmers. Within the next 2-3 years, they plan to reach a total of 10 lakh farmers. Three reasons to like GEWP:

  • Drip irrigation increases crop yield by approximately 25%. Higher crop yield means more money to the small plot farmer.
  • Compared to flood irrigation, drip irrigation is a much more efficient use of water. Better for the environment.
  • Their products (at Rs. 8,000/acre) are affordable, especially compared to the market leader Jain Irrigation Systems. With increased competition from upstart regional players and DripTech, prices can only reduce further.

Banking

We first wrote about Eko’s Branchless Banking solution in early May and followed up with part 2.  A few weeks ago, we covered their fundraising announcement and other developments that are propelling them towards profitability. There are several reasons to like Eko:

  • No-frills banking services enabled to almost a million customers (many of whom are migrant workers).
  • Innovative low-cost distribution infrastructure that converts any retail shop into a mobile banking outlet.
  • Intuitive SMS-based mobile banking solution that 98% of their users find easy to use.
  • As this Gates Foundation sponsored IFMR study shows, formal banking solutions (banks and post offices) are either unavailable or place high demands on time. Informal channels (hawala and cash couriers) are either unreliable or have high remittance rates. Eko’s mobile branchless banking solution is addressing their pain points.
  • Significant number of Eko’s BOP customer base uses the service to save money.

Artoo, a startup with a vision of a paperless microfinance world, is creating a killer user experience for the MFI field agents. Field agents, who provide last-mile support for virtually all aspects of an MFI’s operations, represent 70-80% of an MFI’s workforce. The Artoo solution addresses several inefficiencies in MFI’s workflows. Reasons to like Artoo:

  • Increased efficiencies means improvement in the Operating Expense Ratio (OER), savings which could translate to lower interest rates for customers — ultimately more efficient loan processes and broader financial inclusion.
  • In his early 20’s, the founder of Artoo (Sameer Segal) is probably among the youngest social entrepreneurs in India.

Education

The Acara Challenge, a joint program from Acara Institute & University of Minnesota, is akin to a business plan competition except that it is offered as a course in participating universities and involves pairing-up of a US university with a developing country university (India/Mexico). The Acara Challenge, currently in its third year, is inspiring social entrepreneurship at the university level. Reasons to like Acara Challenge:

  • Social entrepreneurship programs in the academic realm are still few and far-in-between so Acara Institute’s partnership with US and Indian universities provides a fillip.
  • Pairing of US and Indian universities results in an interesting cross-cultural team dynamic.

Head Held High, a vocational training program from Foundation for Life, is an audacious program to provide BPO-level education for illiterate villagers in 8 months. What we like about Head Held High:

  • It’s bold and audacious.
  • Against the backdrop of a lackadaisical and largely ineffective rural education system, Head Held High’s just-in-time vocational training might be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Has the potential to stem the great urban migration if adequate employment is generated in the villages.

A mathematics whiz from a poor family in Patna gets accepted into Cambridge University but is unable to go because of his father’s untimely death. Anand Kumar (the math whiz) starts an IIT-JEE coaching program for poor students which eventually becomes the legendary Super 30 program. What we like about Anand Kumar’s Super 30 Journey:

  • The incredibly high success rate of the Super 30. In eight years, 212 of Kumar’s 240 students have made it to IITs.
  • Food, boarding and tuition free for all impoverished students. This is sustainable, not by external donations, but by fees charged from rich families’ kids.
  • Super-30 is just the beginning.. his sights are set on his graduating students winning Mathematics and Physics Olympiads and.. someday even a Nobel Prize.