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Why India Needs a New Breed of Social Entrepreneurs With Swachh Bharat Abhiyan's popularity across the country, time is ripe for a new breed of social entrepreneurs to emerge

By Vishal Kumar

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In the last decade India has seen a boom of start-ups to solve a range of problems to innovate across industries. Among the stars of these start-ups are e-commerce companies. Technology continues to be the focus, creating a lot of enthusiasm among customers and attracting adequate funding from investors.

During this period, the social sector has largely been sidelined. Although healthcare and energy have attracted investors' interest and gathered funding, many other sectors struggle to get attention, support, and a developed ecosystem for success.


Waste management is one particular sector. Each and every citizen deals with this problem or faces the impacts inadvertently throughout their life regardless of economic status.

Today, India generates over 2 lakh tons of solid waste per day.

Apart from this we generate bio-medical waste, hazardous waste, construction & demolition waste, textile waste, tyre waste etc.

Over 90% of this waste ends up either burnt on road sides, or dumped in our water bodies or end up in landfills.

With our booming consumerism and the culture of disposable plastics, the amount of waste produced is growing exponentially.

There is either no or very poor recycling technology available for many types of materials that we consumer.

For example the chips and biscuit packets are made of flexible multi layered plastics — these are non-recyclable. They end up getting burned in the open or landfilled. We are running out of land as well and our oceans are expected to have more plastic particles than fishes by 2050. This has an adverse impact on the environment and health of all living beings.


India needs a new breed of social entrepreneurs to address this growing problem, and many others.

Waste tends to have a negative connotation and solution to which has typically been associated with the social good of non-for-profit organizations. However, the scale of the problem is so massive in India, with the thriving informal sector market that no single organization can solve it.

Start ups in this space are now providing alternative careers to the young generation who are looking for opportunities to make a difference and create a positive impact for the environment and society. What is needed are innovative solutions that can disrupt the industry. We need to move away from a linear to a circular economy where all waste can be converted into resources.

There is opportunity in reverse logistics, infrastructure development, recycling technology and many types of industrial and agricultural waste.

The country is in dire need of the next generation's acceptance of this social challenge. Now with the Swachh Bharat Mission's popularity across the country, the time is ripe for the new breed of social entrepreneurs to emerge. We need innovative business models to solve some of India's complex social and environmental issues!

Like in any industry, being an entrepreneur and solving a problem can be a tough journey and being in the social space can be even more difficult. Attracting the right talent can be challenging due to the social sectors inability to pay the high salaries that the well fundedtech startups are able to offer. The commitment, and persistence required is immense, but the community should also help make the environment more welcoming to such entrepreneurs.

To help accelerate young people taking the leap to become social entrepreneurs we would need:

Awareness in Colleges

Students that are just about ready to enter into the working world should be exposed to the challenges society is facing and the alternative career options that are available to them. Students should be interning at these organizations during their programs to get on the ground experience and understand the issues to be resolved.

Incentives from Government

Startup India has taken up full force across the country but for social enterprises that are incurring costs to evolve neglected industries, there needs to be further assistance like enhanced tax breaks, subsidies, land and cost-effective financing.

Interest from Investors

Impact investors have started to show interest in the social sector, but traditional investors should deploy capital in the social sector in an effort to develop solutions and to be patient with returns.

Excitement for Solutions and Innovations that work

There are many initiatives, especially app based solutions, that attract investors and attention but most of time, the idea is not a true solution.We do need enterprises that are creating value and are retaining customers to be recognized.

When talent is engaged in these industries and are provided the right environment to succeed, sustainable solutions will flourish, and capital will follow.

In the recent past, social enterprises that have been able to raise seed funding and have been able to prove that such business models can work. Along with a ROI these enterprises also have a high SROI (Social Return on Investment). The time has come for the social sector to take center stage and invite interest from the young generation and investors alike.

Vishal Kumar

Program Manager, Saahas Zero Waste

Vishal Kumar is the programme manager at Saahas Zero Waste.
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