Commentary

How entreprenuership is helping India’s poor


Deva Arun Reddy (Arun)

Entrepreneurs are people who manage and organize an enterprise usually with considerable initiative and risk; they represent the ideas, innovation and talent in society. There is also a significant role that entrepreneurs can play as agents of change in both developing and developed countries by helping solve problems of different kinds and magnitude.  I think of this as the social aspect of entrepreneurship, which I feel is fundamental and essential in alleviating problems of society.  I want to talk about two entreprenuers – Gyanesh Pandey and Anita Ahuja who are tackling the problem of cheap electricity and waste management respectively in very innovative ways.

India is a developing country where a large number of people do not have access to any electricity. Gyanesh Pandey, a young entrepreneur was greatly moved by the plight of villagers who could not make use of their crop land because they did not have access to electrical power to run their irrigation pumps etc. He came up with a ‘fix’, he started a company called Husk Power Systems where he transforms abundant rice husk residue that otherwise usually gets wasted and discarded, into electricity that can be delivered to the rural population at a staggeringly economical price. He used his entrepreneurial skills to come up with a very innovative solution to run an entire power plant on just rice husk. He forged partnerships with childhood friends who were interested in his idea but they soon ran into a monetary hurdle. In order to overcome this obstacle Pandey entered and won a student business model contest at his university, which enabled him to acquire the necessary financial support for his team to continue refining the idea and transforming it into a successful business. Husk Power Systems delivers the cheapest electricity in India while still being profitable, and is on its way to expand its footprint around the country.

The following example very well illustrates the need for entrepreneurship not only in the context of the less privileged but also in a capitalist society.

Fueled by the noble desire to do away with immense amounts of waste produced by a country of 1.1 billion, Anita and Shaulabh Ahuja founded Conserve India, an NGO to recycle the waste in their neighborhood that wasn’t being taken care of or recycled by local authorities because of lack or resources and skilled labor. Anita and Shaulabh recognizes that plastic bags were a big threat to the environment, not only because they are not biodegradable but also because they could not be recycled locally, they set their sights on ridding the streets of Delhi off this problem. After a lot of trial and error, the team at Conserve India realized that the solution lay in recycling plastic waste products into malleable sheets of plastic that could be reinvented as fashion accessories. They also recognized that this was an opportunity to help rag-pickers, who collected garbage and sold it for a minimal amount of money in exchange, by providing them with gainful employment. As a result of their resourceful idea, they have converted thousands of tons of waste plastic into bags, necklaces, wallets, shoes and belts. In addition to this they have also greatly improved the lives of a great number of rag-pickers.

Although famous people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet contribute a lot to charity around the globe, and almost always get all of the attention for their philanthropic efforts (and rightly so), I believe that young entrepreneurs around the world need to be empowered so they can solve problems of society in innovative, effective and profitable ways. I truly believe that although charity is a short term solution to the problems faced by a significant number of people in the world today, entrepreneurship is the long term solution to many of the socio-economic and cultural problems that we are confronted with.

Deva Arun Reddy (Arun) is a graduate student in CMU’selectrical and computer engineering department and wants to follow in the foot steps of the entrepreneurs he talks about in this blog post by starting a company of his own one day.

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