Engaging youth in social enterprise: Filling the cracks


You work 500 km away from your native home. Your elderly patents need urgent medical attention. They need somebody to escort them to nearby government hospital. They can not afford to call Doctor home. How will this situation be handled? You will say, call 108 and tell them the address of your parents. Rest will follow. How was 108 service originally conceived ? Could private entrepreneur provide public service? And you will say yes, that is possible. Did the caller or his parents had to pay for this service? No. The State subsidised the cost of this service.

There are so many social needs which state and market fail to meet adequately. Even the civil society organizations may miss noticing them or addressing them sustainably. Should state encourage private entrepreneurs to provide necessary service to the needy people who may not afford to pay for it? Much of the discussion on social entrepreneurship remains restricted to providing social services at reasonable cost to users. Free things are supposed to be bad for moral integrity of the society. May be in a few cases that may be so. People may not maintain services which they do not pay for. But can readers reflect for a minute and ask themselves, “” did I never use any service for which I did not pay?”, the answer might be obvious. All of us have used content from web fur which we did not pay. We have gone to public libraries for which we were not charged. We have read newspapers pasted on the walls in Kerala and West Bengal which poor people read without paying for them. We get guidance from some of the blessed teachers who do not charge tuition fee for after class coaching or guiding students out of their class.

How do we encourage more and more youth to look at ways of expanding public domain, provide goods and services to those who need them but can not pay for them? Poor Old people in slums or villages may not get spectacles fir their weak eyesight? You have many old spectacles lying at home. Somebody can collect these, get a doctor to test the eyesight of the poor children or adults, and then distribute these spectacles. A world of opportunity opens for them. Schools can mount a campaign for collecting used glasses lying unused at homes of the students. But somebody has to organize the logistics, label these properly, service these before these can be used, clean these, mobilize doctor and provide a service. All this cost money. Who will pay for it.
We need a policy to encourage contribution by Individuals and organizations to such social entrepreneurs be recognized, if possible be considered for tax rebate and incentivised.
We will make our society more equitable, socially satisfied and happy if more and more cracks in the walls and roofs of poor people are filled through such social enterprises. Open source teaching material, health advisory, libraries etc., are needed in every country. Children need mentoring, women need safety, elderly need health care, and many of them can’t pay for it. I am confident that we can get a lot more gaps in social needs met through young entrepreneurs who need support, motivation, funding and a little recognition. They can do it at much less cost than what it will take the state to do it. Private sector has no reason to provide such needs except when they can cross subsidise which some companies do. Can we organise competitions among youth to identify such unmet social or community needs, develop models for meeting them, and provide fellowships to young people wanting to fill those gaps?


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place