Nitin Rao

Solutions That Sustain

Outlook magazine recently profiled a new breed of social entrepreneurs in India (The article: The Spirit of Ants, can be read for free once an account is created at

Chetna SinhaWhen I last wrote about a micro financier role in partnering for financial literacy, I did not know that Chetna Gala-Sinha was well ahead of us. A Yale World Fellow and true social entrepreneur, Sinha launched a ?business school? with a difference. For less than 3 cents a day, poor women at the school gain a better understanding of money and take their first steps towards financial independence and self-sufficiency. In an environment in which old solutions of subsidies and vocational training cannot sustain, the women are finally receiving education relevant to what they really need.

The Outlook article speaks of 60 year old P. Mukundan who found an investor in Vineet Rai (Aavishkaar) for his idea of an efficient stove-burner. The National Innovation Foundation has an outstanding database of grassroots innovators and their ongoing projects. When I had the chance to be part of a presentation by rural innovators identified by NIF, I noticed that innovators took pride in being selected for a government subsidy. Would they not be keen to be selected for an investment?

It is exciting to read of Solomon Jaiprakash of livelihood development initiative Maya Organic who says:

“The cause we serve is fine, but we don’t want people to buy our products because we do that. We want them to buy them because of their exceptional quality. Our focus is on building a brand. Sympathy is unsustainable in the long run.”

Gala-Sinha could have used the money she received from HSBC to fund an elaborate mini-MBA for women.
Vineet Rai could have donated to the stover-burner project.

Jaiprakash could have actively pursued grants.
For as long as these would last.

Many are excited by the renewed interest in social innovation. I am excited that experience is teaching us, even if slowly, the difference between solutions which merely sound good and those which sustain.