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editor’s note
Think About It...

What is the next ‘New Economy’? That’s one question I have wondered about ever since the rise of the Internet spawned new entrepreneurial fervour towards the end of the last decade. I recently met the head of development banking at a private sector bank who also raised the same question, and answered it. “The social economy is the next new economy,” he said. “And social entrepreneurs will make a far greater impact on India than the ones we have seen so far.”

But who exactly is a social entrepreneur? There are several definitions, but this is the one we have used. Unlike a conventional entrepreneur, who works to maximise shareholder value, a social entrepreneur’s primary goal is to create value for society at large, especially the disadvantaged sections. The drive to create shareholder value is incidental, often even non-existent.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that social enterprises are loss-making, grant-funded charities. They are not. Many of the 50 social entrepreneurs profiled in this issue have raised commercial capital, have excellent business sense and often make profits. But the profits are mostly ploughed back to meet more social needs.

A social entrepreneur uses all the tools of modern business—technology, innovation, capital, new management techniques, free markets and top-notch talent, among other things. But he doesn’t have the greed that is associated with business, greed that has been the undoing of capitalism in recent times.

If capitalist entrepreneurship was about efficient use of resources to create wealth for shareholders, social entrepreneurship is all about using resources as efficiently, but for creating and distributing wealth to the weak and the poor.

Earlier, entrepreneurs with great business ideas who took their companies public, rewarded shareholders (and themselves) by multiplying market capitalisation, and awarded employees with generous stock options were the toast of town. Indian and global magazines regularly publish lists of the richest men and women in business. But now, their popularity is clearly waning.

Slowly, social entrepreneurs are coming to the fore—they are the new wealth creators. Sure, the model of social entrepreneurship has several limitations. Leave alone 50, even 5,000 such entrepreneurs may not be able to fix all of the nation’s problems. But they have presented a unique model that could offer lessons in development to government and companies alike. They are shining like islands of innovation that could well be replicated across the country.

Special Projects Editor Naren Karunakaran got started on this special issue a few months ago. He has come up with inspiring stories of individuals who have braved the odds, defied the system, and overcome myriad constraints without ever giving up. This special issue is as much a tribute to their competence as it is to their compassion. “Working on this issue has taught me that every individual, however small but with a big idea, can make a meaningful impact on society,” says Naren.

This is India’s first such listing of social entrepreneurs. I hope other magazines also follow up with similar lists of their own. Sometimes, reading only about the rich and the famous can become a bit tiresome.

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