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Experts discuss challenges faced by social entrepreneurs working on inclusive growth

young turks | Oct 28, 2021 8:43 PM IST

Experts discuss challenges faced by social entrepreneurs working on inclusive growth

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This festive season, we celebrate social entrepreneurs, social warriors, who are changing the way services are delivered to the bottom of the pyramid, re-engineering the ecosystem to recycle electronic and plastic waste, using AI-powered fintechs to finance the poorest of the poor, and building hospitals on the asset-light model to take health care to the masses. CNBC-TV18 talks to Pranshu Singhal, Founder, Karo Sambhav; Dr. Shuchin Bajaj, Founder-Director, Ujala Cygnus, and FIA Global's founder Seema Prem.

The last 18 months have tested the human spirit in many ways -- the loss of loved ones, the unbearable longing to be with family and friends as lockdown and social distancing became the norm, the anxiety of not being able to access healthcare when needed, or the learning loss brought on by the closure of schools.

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However, through this crisis, everyone's been witness to the speed at which social enterprises have risen to the occasion, collaborating with each other and partnering with ordinary citizens to respond to the many challenges they face.
Most Indians lacking even basic necessities like proper nutrition, education, healthcare, innovation, and entrepreneurship are now playing a crucial role in bridging some of those key gaps. And they want to help address the needs of some of the most vulnerable. That is why this festive season, we want to celebrate social entrepreneurs, social warriors, who are changing the way services are delivered to the bottom of the pyramid, through the inventive use of technology, re-engineering the ecosystem to recycle every fraction of electronic products or even plastic waste, using AI-powered fintech platforms to finance the poorest of the poor, and build hospitals on the asset-light model to take health care to the masses.
So, what does it take to build a social impact enterprise? And what are some of the top challenges faced by social entrepreneurs as they embark on their mission for inclusive growth?
To answer all the above questions and more, CNBC-TV18 caught up with Pranshu Singhal, Founder, Karo Sambhav, Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder-Director, Ujala Cygnus, and FIA Global's founder Seema Prem. Singhal is also the Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2021, awarded by the Schwab Foundation for social entrepreneurship and the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation.
Talking about the attitude towards e-waste and Karo Sambhav, Singhal said the change is starting. But "we are still very far from what an ideal situation should be like," he said. Plastic waste has seeped in very deep and people recognise that they have a role in solving the problem. But e-waste is still a little distant -- a very small fraction of the people are starting to understand e-waste. "We are at least starting to see a positive change," he said.
“My worry is with the IoT trend, with the convergence happening. We are increasingly going to see electronics embedded into every single thing that we use, which means every single thing, right from close to our shoes will use electronics. How do we manage the situation in that scenario? So, while there is a positive trend, a lot still needs to be done,” said Singhal.
On the Karo Sambhav model
Singhal said waste, in general, has been managed in the informal sector in India, and in most parts of the world. "When we started, the biggest thing that we were hearing from the ecosystem is this is not possible, so why are you even starting and trying to do this? But the approach was to find early-stage success. Even if we could transform one organisation, if we could start with a few waste pickers, formalise them, train them, make their working conditions better, then the trend would start," he said.
That belief has worked and slowly the momentum has built up. Our first partner, for example, was IFC. In the early stages, organisations like Apple and Dell partnered with Karo Sambhav. That bought in a lot of trust in the system and got the system moving. So, from the earlier 'why should we do it', now we are talking about 'how we should do it', which is a huge change, he said.
Throwing light on the context of providing good quality health care which is accessible to the average citizen, Dr. Bajaj said more than six crore people in India slip below the poverty line every year just because of health care costs. Nobody saves for health care shocks, we lose more than one million people every month to preventable deaths, because they cannot access health care -- either it is not available or not accessible, not appropriate for them or not accountable.
Even after 70 years of independence, we have not been able to address these problems, he said.
It was due to some personal stories that Karo Sambhav started with the intention to try and provide accessible health care, which should be affordable, and at the same time accountable, accredited, so that people don't have to die on the road or even if they reach the hospital they don't have to sell their houses to pay for the medical bills.
Ujala Cygnus model
"I strongly believe that if you are setting up something, you should be confident enough of using it yourself, and your family should use it first before you sell it to anyone else. So, if you're setting up hospitals for poor people, it is not necessary that they have to be of poor quality. So, all our hospitals are National Accreditation Board for Hospitals (NABH) accredited," said Dr Bajaj.
"We set up hospitals at a very low cost. We do not own any land or building; we take everything on rent. Land and building hospitals are very expensive. So, we do all that on the rental model. Then, as doctors, we understand the factors that will affect the outcome of the patient -- the factors that make it look and feel good, and the factors that are simple gold plating. So, we don't go play at any of our assets. We do not spend money on anything that does not directly affect patient outcomes. All our operation theatres or surgical equipment or laparoscopic or cath labs are modular. OTs will be exactly the same as you would find in any big city large hospital, but all our beds will be locally sourced, all our curtains will be locally sourced, our manpower is definitely all locally sourced," said Dr Bajaj.
“We work on volumes of scale, we do not incur heavy expenditure on set-up costs. We set up NBH-accredited hospitals with the same facilities that you will find in a large 500-bedded hospital in Delhi at about less than 1/10 of the cost per bed that they spend on setting it up. So, our return on capital is very, very good,” said Dr Bajaj further explaining the model.
For the full discussion, watch the accompanying video
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