Indian Rickshaws Pull Ahead
Friday, August 13, 2010
Today, “social entrepreneurship” has become an important development to help some of the poorest groups in the world like the rickshaw pullers in India.
Colorfully adorned cycle rickshaws have long been a part of India’s landscapes. These hardworking yet environmentally friendly rickshaw operators can navigate busy urban streets and rural country roads with the same ease. But they are all but invisible to their passengers as they barely subsist above the poverty level. And it has been this way for more than a century. Then arrived Irfan Alam, a young social entrepreneur who was struck by the poverty-ridden conditions in which they operate.
Alam thought rickshaw drivers were natural points of sale and therefore they could make extra money by selling drinks, newspapers, or even mobile-phone cards to their passengers on the spot. Also since the average rickshaw covers about 10 kilometers (six miles) a day around town, he envisioned each vehicle could be used as an advertising medium and courier service.
These ideas evolved into the non-profit organization Sammaan (which means “dignity”). Today these sleek refitted cycle rickshaws, driven by uniformed personnel, have changed the landscape of the roads in the state of Bihar in India.
The success of Sammaan has earned Alam many accolades from Business World’s “Hottest Young Entrepreneur” to TED fellowship, BRLP World Bank Innovation Award, and a nomination as Asia’s most inspiring young entrepreneur.
Following his participation at the Entrepreneurship Summit hosted by President Obama in Washington in April, Alam visited San Jose to deliver a lecture about “Bottom of the Pyramid Entrepreneurship” at TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) conference. India Currents had the opportunity to speak with him.