Some Startup Ideas for Social Enterprises
One reason why Kerala does not see much activity in the social entrepreneurship space is the absence of problems that usually get addressed effectively by social enterprises - abject poverty, total lack of access to healthcare or education or drinking water, complete financial exclusion, and the like.
Kudumbashree, launched by the Kerala Government nearly two decades ago, is today one of the largest social enterprises in the world engaging over 4.1 million women. Kerala has institutions in social sector which are far superior compared to those in other states. So, private social enterprises are not many in Kerala as entrepreneurs find it difficult to compete with government-subsidised programmes. Yet there are a few good opportunities that come to my mind when I think of startup ideas for social enterprises that can make a difference in Kerala.
Employing persons with disability
Building organisations that can employ people with disability is a major step in bringing a large disadvantaged population into the mainstream and helping build awareness that the disabled can also be creative and productive. Building an online marketplace or even an art gallery for retailing arts and crafts made by fine arts graduates who pass out of institutions like National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH) could be a good idea.
Another endeavour that needs mention here is Bridge Social Innovations, employing those with intellectual disability in jobs requiring repeat/routine tasks. Apart from training and offering candidates to business enterprises, they also manufacture the Educraft and Edufun brand of office and school stationery being sold across outlets. It is a very successful and laudable effort indeed because social enterprises can sustain only on quality and relevance and not on sympathy or charity. We need many more such social enterprises.
Promoting Tribal Arts and Handicrafts
Kerala has a rich tribal legacy long forgotten. About four lakh tribals/adivasis who belong to about 35 tribes have made Kerala their home. More than half of them reside in Wayanad. Their arts are inspired by natural themes, motifs and materials. They have separate music instruments made of bamboo and wood. Creating an online market place for adivasi/tribal art and handicrafts could mean financial independence for these tribes as well as global appreciation for their brand of creativity. A joint project with the tribals for cultivation and marketing of medicinal plants especially from the forests (using their forest rights) would help the tribals and also the Ayurveda industry.
Supporting traditional artists
Come to think of it, every conference these days has an art performance. These are mostly performed by a celebrity or professional exponent of an art form. If we can build an institution that can professionally coordinate and manage artists of dying traditional art forms of Kerala like Theyyam and offer it as a service, it will not only provide a fresh impetus to the art forms but go a long way in improving the lives of traditional performers/artists, many of whom are employed only during the festival season lasting a few months and living impoverished lives.
Monetizing African Payal (water hyacinth)
African Payal or Water Hyacinth has been invading our backwaters and lakes for quite some time now. While they pose a grave challenge to houseboat tourism, our efforts to contain them have failed. A business for which Water Hyacinth could become the raw material may be a great way to solve this menace. Thanks to its extremely high rate of growth, Water Hyacinth is an excellent source of biomass. One hectare of standing crop thus produces more than 70,000 m3 of biogas. The high moisture content of Water Hyacinth, adding much to handling costs, tends to limit commercial ventures but this is worth exploring.
(The author is Member, Kerala State Planning Board)