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Development 2.0 Brought to You by Social Entrepreneurs

Parvathi Menon's picture

We traveled an hour outside of Jaipur to Laporiya village, in the Jaipur District. One of the 41353 villages across 32 Districts of Rajasthan that depends largely on agriculture and dairy for sustenance.

The total cultivated area of the state encompasses about 20 million hectares and out of this only 20% of the land is irrigated. Ground water level is available only at a depth of 30 to 61m. Yet with minimum inputs, the agricultural sector of the state accounts for 22.5 per cent of the State economy.

Clearly, anyone with an innovative solution in water management, ground water recharge or innovative irrigation techniques will have a huge market of opportunity. Because the farmers and the market can easily increase business size – if water could be managed.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

Most farmers are very poor subsistence farmers dependent on Government support for irrigation. Some of the large scale innovative water management solutions are developed by NGO’s working in the area and are implemented in relatively small catchments, supporting a few communities at a time.

As a part of the community outreach process for the India DM 2011, the Innovation Alchemy team met the founders of the Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal Laporiya (GVNML). Over the last 20 years they have built and demonstrated the power of a simple innovation (called Chokha, or ’4-sides’) that allowed their village to create 3 fairly large lakes (imagine, this is Rajasthan), that capture natural rain water and feed all the wells, grazing fields and provide irrigation throughout the Laporiya catchment. One of the main lakes created in this process for instance (annasagar) helped the contiguous farms earn an annual revenue of INR 3.6 Million last year. The overall GDP of this catchment has grown tremendously through agri and dairy output. This village even shows up on Satellite images because it has water bodies in an otherwise dry area!

This project has been studied by Teams from the Government, from various aid agencies, local agriculture universities – but has just not scaled beyond Laporiya.

The reason? The core team of GVNML is doing this for public good – and is unable to translate the model and its benefit into a venture that can be sustainable. Value is being created in large amounts – but no tangible value is being captured, for this model to build a sustainable loop. The organization hopes that the Government or another institutional body will scale this further. While the Government is very interested, that process is long. And this innovation waits.

What if we could try an entrepreneurial model here?

In this scenario – for any model to really grow, a few things are probably necessary:

1. An income creating solution that creates positive value in the lives of the farmers – and can be linked to tangible benefits for the farmer/ family/ community

2. A model that allows the farmers to subscribe to this service/ product – but only pay once he sees the value being created in his life – therefore providing a REAL alternative – not one that is speculative and presumptive.

But do these models need to be created afresh – or can some of the development models and existing innovative products be combined to actively transition to an enterprise model?

What if an entrepreneur could take the GVNML model – and build a way that each village catchment executes such a project and saves excess water than it needs in each rain cycle – selling the excess into a central water source – creating multiple sources of revenue for the village and the enterprise in the long run? The Micro-hydro plants developed by Tri Mumpuni are a similar model.

This requires patience capital or grants that behave as working capital for the entrepreneur to experiment for a couple of years, try a few revenue models, advocate with government departments, demonstrate impact and then leverage it for further growth.

Of course – I am making it sound much simpler than it really is. But consider this – Subsidies currently constitute 14% of India’s GDP. A large part of these are subsidies for farmers to subsidize the cost of living and inflation. This is not going to change unless some innovation is brought about in the way that farmers can create resource for themselves. If enterprise could demonstrate that:

Value created = Higher GDP = Lesser need for subsidy = More money available for other issues = Real development.

That would be great.

The challenge of transitioning from a development model to an enterprise model is not a contradiction anymore – its evolution, based on what’s needed today for rapid, large scale, crowd sourced development.

Social entrepreneurs, please step in.