Two Books on Social Enterprises

Towards the end of 2019, almost around the same time, two books were published on one subject – Social Enterprises. Together, they make a great read. 

Thanks to the authors, I had an opportunity to read the manuscripts and offer my comments, which were incorporated as “advance praise” in these books. Am reproducing them below, as part of Shiv’s Reading Recos:

Farming Futures: Emerging Social Enterprises in India 

by Ajit Kanitkar and C. Shambu Prasad 

I would like to compliment the editors and the authors for three distinct contributions to advance the knowledge and practice in the social enterprise space. Firstly, for picking up as diverse a set of cases as possible, from every conceivable angle. Then for writing the cases as “organisations in making”, piecing the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the social enterprises as they evolved. Finally, for pulling out insights and helping us imagine an ecosystem in which social enterprises can thrive.

The editors aptly explain that the social enterprises are trying to occupy a space that is left by the government, the NGO sector and or the market actors, and thus are based on the foundation of values but practising the principles of business and profitability. However, most social entrepreneurs, with the exception of a few, end up subordinating the enterprise aspects to the social cause. To my mind, this is abdicating the responsibility to craft a business model that can

deliver both. I am not taking away the challenge in this task, because I know the enormous friction

in the encounters of these entrepreneurs with the larger ecosystem.

Innovation in this space is required to harness the power of “and”, i.e., leverage the capacity of

an enterprise to solve social problems, thereby enabling scale, and not succumb to the tyranny of

choosing between social purpose “or” enterprise objectives, after having started off on the social

enterprise path.

Given the difficulty of the challenge to innovate for this “and” paradigm, and the time it takes to

test & improvise the workability, and to prove scalability of the social business models, there is clearly a role for hybrid organisations and blended financing models. The two organisations must work parallelly, yet in a synchronised manner. Even the Impact Venture Capital Funds may like to evolve new integrated metrics for the performance of social enterprises, rather than looking at both the dimensions separately. Similarly, the incubators and accelerators helping the social enterprises too.

Social Entrepreneurship in India : Quarter Idealism and a Pound of Pragmatism

by Madhukar Shukla

Social enterprises do not succeed or scale easily, given the challenge they grapple with, while trying to fuse social causes with profitable business models. Passionate social Entrepreneurs craft them with considerable artistry through a lot of idealism and some trial & error. Often, even with the benefit of hindsight, some of them can’t explain why they succeeded. Certainly not to the extent another entrepreneur can replicate the “model”.

In this backdrop, Madhukar’s book is a boon to this domain. He analyses how the “markets of the

poor” are different, where the “opportunity structures” exist, describes the various “entrepreneurial models that enable the poor to access markets, and places the different “archetypes of social entrepreneurship” in that context.

The book is a must read for both the “been there, done that” social entrepreneurs intending to scale, and the “wannabe” entrepreneurs looking at social problems to engage with; or for that matter even for the Social Impact Funds trying to make sense of the “mad” proposals they receive all the time.