Social Entrepreneurship in an urban context
By Manishankar Prasad
Whenever a narrative about development is written, the focus is usually on the rural poor. The narrator often selectively forgets that there are also the urban poor which live in the flavellas of Rio to the slums of Dharavi. Slums in global mega cities are sometimes the economic engine of those regions. The domestic staff, factory labor, and the minimum wage staff all live in urban shanty towns.
Social Enterprises (or SE) usually cater to the rural folks in selling artisan products or bringing skills training. The use of microfinance by SEs such as Grameen and BRAC in Bangladesh has helped many rural poor start their own businesses. Microfinance is not only for the rural poor but can also apply to the urban poor in providing them credit access to start their own businesses. For example, Singapore-based microfinance SE, Milaap, is helping the poor urban communities in southern India in their quest for a better life.
In urbanized Singapore, SEs can fill a niche, which is hard to bridge either by companies or the government. Some examples include Old School, an educational SE that serves people who dropped out of formal public education, and the World Toilet Organization, which spreads the ‘good word’ about sanitation across developing countries globally.
There are also examples of SEs helping the urban poor in other countries. For example, in Mumbai, India Ambulance 1298 is providing emergency access to ambulances during the ‘golden hour’, which saves lives. Embrace, a Stanford d.school-based SE is providing affordable non power based incubators for infants, as in the developing world, power cuts are the norm rather than the exception even in urban spaces.
As the world is getting more urbanized with China already crossing the psychological threshold of more residents in cities than in the rural areas, SEs are the way ahead in helping the urban poor and building sustainable communities, and complementing local governments.