Social Entrepreneurship In India: Quarter Idealism And A Pound of Pragmatism

Book Summary by Mr. Pradeep Nair, Sr. Editor, PIC

Entrepreneurship in the general, commercial sense is defined as the ‘activity of making money by starting or running businesses.’ Social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is a popular term that has evaded definition.

Often misunderstood as not-for-profit ventures, the term gets closest to its definition in Madhukar Shukla’s book, Social Entrepreneurship In India: Quarter Idealism And A Pound Of Pragmatism. With a Master’s in Psychology (Lucknow University), and PhD from IIT, Kanpur, Shukla is Chairperson, Fr Arrupe Centre for Ecology & Sustainability, and Professor, Strategic Management and OB, XLRI Jamshedpur, India. He serves on the Boards of School of Management & Labour Studies, TISS, and XLRI. Before joining XLRI in 1990, he was with National Productivity Council and Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad. 

With 120 inspiring examples of social entrepreneurs who found creative solutions to social problems through innovative businesses, Shukla explains in simple language the concept, its history, relevance today, and the dimensions of innovation, social impact and organisational form in social entrepreneurship. 

“Broadly”, he says, “it is agreed that social entrepreneurs are individuals who solve social problems, and thus create social change by impacting the lives of people and communities they serve.” However, “such broad understanding” raises “more questions than answers”, given the social roles of NGOs, commercial entrepreneurs, social movements, and corporates as well. 

As the title states, the concept combines two “contradictory propositions”— the idealism behind one’s passion for a social cause and the pragmatism needed to solve social problems through a sustainable business model. That is also the story of social entrepreneurship in India. 

The tome is the culmination of the author’s own “personal learning journey” that started coincidentally more than 15 years ago. Feeling saturated after 25 years of being “with the corporate sector as a consultant, trainer and academic”, he was “looking for some exciting field to explore”, when, in 2005, “a team from ‘Ashoka: Innovators for the Public’ visited XLRI as a part of their roadshow across campuses to promote teaching of social entrepreneurship.” 

“The interaction opened up an entirely new vista”, he says. The “very idea that ordinary individuals can solve critical social problems through entrepreneurial means” excited him. The “voyage of discovery” that followed took him to forums – including the Skoll World Forum, Oxford University – where social entrepreneurs from around the world shared their experiences.

The broad treatment of the topic makes the nine-chapter book a rich and authentic resource for established and aspiring social innovators, students and scholars alike. It defines the theoretical aspects of social entrepreneurship. The nitty-gritty and strategies of setting up social enterprises and the “nightmare” task of scaling up are explained with case studies and research citations. 

The chapter ‘Entrepreneurial Thinking: A Method to The Madness’ delves deep into the mind of the entrepreneur, explaining what makes them “different than other economic actors of the society”. Citing examples ranging from Amul, Lijjat, Microsoft, to SEWA, among other enterprises, Shukla effectively drives home the point that successful social enterprises begin with an idea, a thought. 

The well-researched book is a paean to Indian social entrepreneurs who, as Prof. Muhammad Yunus writes in the foreword, “saw business as a good way to address” social problems long before concepts like social entrepreneurship emerged. And, given the potential of India’s demographic dividend and the government’s limitations in taking social schemes to the grassroots, the ideas and solutions in the book are timely, practical, and universally applicable.