Globally, societies are burdened with multiple problems and long-standing issues that remain unresolved by the government sector. This is where social entrepreneurs step in to rethink concepts and assumptions.
There is an increasing tribe of women social entrepreneurs in India who are now working to provide innovative and sustainable solutions to drive socio-economic growth and change. Here are a few who have done notable work in the sector.
Ajaitha Shah, Founder and CEO, Frontier Markets
After graduation from Tufts University in the US, Ajaitha Shah moved to her home-state Rajasthan. Realising that millions of people live without electricity in India, she decided to do something about it.
In 2011, Ajaitha founded Frontier Markets to take clean energy solutions to every home in rural Rajasthan. Today, the last mile-assisted e-commerce and distribution company delivers one million products and services to 700,000 rural customers in Rajasthan, UP and Bihar.
She has trained and transformed over 4,000 local women into entrepreneurs and by 2025, Frontier Markets plans to grow to one million women entrepreneurs to drive economic empowerment in the rural sector.
Her work has been lauded the world over, earning her awards like SOCAP Scholar, 2012 Echoing Green Fellow and Women Transforming India Awards 2018.
Anu Sridharan, Co-founder and CEO, NextDrop
Anu Sridharan started this social enterprise in 2011 to provide residents with timely and accurate information about piped water supply. Initially, it was only operational in Hubli-Dharwad, the twin cities in Karnataka, but later expanded to Bengaluru.
The company uses its “Smart Grid ‘Lite’” solution to collect and share water delivery information with city residents and water utilities. Valve men measure the level of water in reservoirs every day and the same information is sent to engineers, who then decide the areas that should get water and what time, depending on the supply.
Jeroo Billimoria, Philanthropist and Entrepreneur
A serial social entrepreneur, Jeroo Billimoria is known the world over for being the brain behind multiple innovative and award-winning NGOs. She has been recognised for her global movement to protect children and youth through organisations like Childline India and ChildHelpline International, which are active in 181 countries.
Another of her projects, Aflatoun, has partnered with global organisations to provide social and financial education to over 1 million children in 84 countries. Jeroo is also leading the CYFI and the Child and Youth Finance Movement to ensure Full Economic Citizenship of young people worldwide. A Skoll winner, and an Ashoka and Schwab Fellow, Jeroo is now building her ninth entrepreneurial venture.
Prukalpa Sankar, Co-founder and CEO, SocialCops and Atlan
In 2013, during the final year of B.Tech at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Prukalpa Sankar along with her batchmate Varun Banka started SocialCops. The data intelligence startup confronts critical global challenges with the ability to collate various forms of data to achieve valuable insights.
SocialCops has been closely associated with The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India, and India's three biggest oil companies, impacting 50 million women, 13 states, and 10,000 LPG centers. SocialCops had also been selected as one of the two startups along with Google and Twitter for the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s most promising tech pioneers.
Prukalpa and her SocialCops co-founder have also started a new venture Atlan, a data democratization company.
Revathi Roy, Serial Entrepreneur and Angel Investor
Mumbai-based social entrepreneur Revathi Roy has been working towards uplifting women since 2007, when she established Asia’s first all-women taxi service, ForShe.
In 2016, Revathi launched HeyDeeDee - the last-mile delivery service company which imparts driving skills to underprivileged women and helps them get jobs. It has a network of over more than 300 women across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Nagpur, Pune and Nasik.
Recently Revathi was made a mentor under the government’s Atal Innovation Mission and her company received venture funding of $500,000 from San Francisco-based fund Metaform in March 2018. Revathi was honoured with the ‘Women Transforming India Award’ in 2016 by NITI Aayog.
Smita Ramakrishna, Co-founder and CEO, Rang De
Armed with a Master’s Degree in Social Work and extensive work experience at NGOs in India and the UK, Smita Ramakrishna co-founded Rang De - the internet-based peer-to-peer micro-lending website - in 2008.
The social enterprise empowers individuals to invest in entrepreneurs who belong to low-income backgrounds and enable them to create sustainable livelihoods. Rang De’s mission is to expand access to low-cost credit and alleviate poverty in India.
Smita’s efforts have made a strong impact on communities and enhanced social investor involvement in the organisation. In 2017, the peer to peer lending website was regulated by the Reserve Bank of India.
Urvashi Sahni, Serial Entrepreneur and Educationist
Urvashi Sahni is the Founder and Chief Executive of Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF). It focuses on education for inclusion, empowerment and leadership building for India’s most disadvantaged and girls at risk. The social enterprise has provided education to over 4000 students, including middle class urban children, disadvantaged girls and boys in rural areas, and out-of-school children.
Urvashi has worked towards the empowerment of women and children for over three decades, through her work in school governance, curriculum reform, teacher training, and the use of technology in education.
She is also the co-founder and Director of the Digital Study Hall and DiDi’s, a social enterprise that has generated sustainable livelihoods for women,
Urvashi has garnered recognition for her work through awards like the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 by the Schwab-Jubilant Bhartiya Foundation. She is also an Ashoka Fellow, and has been recognised by the Obama Foundation Global Girls Alliance and the Clinton Foundation as a Change Maker.
(Edited by Athira Nair)