Indian social entrepreneurs spell out wishlist for new government

by Nita Bhalla
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 17:05 GMT

A Kashmiri farmer plucks damaged plants from a rice field in Narbal on the outskirts of Srinagar August 23, 2012. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of Indians are going to the polls this month to choose a new government which they hope will stem graft, reign in inflation and boost the pace of development in the country.

Despite India's stellar economic growth over the last two decades, one-third of the country's 1.2 billion population still live below the poverty line.

According to government surveys, more than 40 percent of children under five are malnourished, while the World Health Organisation says some 620 million people are forced to defecate in the open.

Experts say there are millions of social enterprises in India that could play a key role towards achieving more inclusive development, if the new government - expected to be announced next month - puts in place policies to support them.

At the Sankalp Unconvention Summit in Mumbai last week, social businesses pitching products and services - from solar lanterns to mobile healthcare - told the Thomson Reuters Foundation their wishlist for the new government. 


Social entrepreneurs say just like in many other countries, they are not officially or legally recognised as a sector in India which is playing an important part in the fight against poverty.

While the challenges lie in defining what a social enterprise is, once defined, it could pave the way for strong policies to help such businesses go from idea to innovation. This could include investments, loans and grants for start-ups, incentives such as tax-breaks, subsidies on land, power and water.


Currently most start-up social enterprises get their funding from foreign investors, but experts say that there is enough capital in India, particularly with the government and big corporations, to act as important investors.


Not just for social enterprises, but for all businesses, the new government must streamline bureaucracy, making it easier for all enterprises to establish themselves. Many social enterprises say they have to jump through a multitude of hoops to get the various licenses and permits which can take months before they become operational.    


The government needs to help the sector access technology, finance capital, and support networks where they can share expertise with other social innovators, investors and development experts.


Make a new law, which requires large companies to spend 2 percent of their annual net profits on corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, less ambiguous by allowing them to spend some of their CSR funds on investing in social innovation, rather than just charities or their own development projects.

For more coverage of social enterprise in India, see our special report


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