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By definition, social business is a cause-driven business with the principle aim of solving problems, not maximizing profits. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond their investment. When investment amount is paid back, company profit stays with the company for expansion and improvement. In his book Creating a World without Poverty - Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, Professor Dr. Muhammad Yunus opines that one of the requirements of social business is to cater to positive social objectives such as health, education, poverty, environment or climate urgency. A business he says may also be classed as a social business if is owned by the poor or disadvantaged - dividends and financial growth return to the poor where their fiscal situations are helped bringing them out of poverty such as women, young people or long-term unemployed.
In the shadow of social business, Atlanta based Gray Ghost Ventures (GGV) started by Atlanta native Bob Patillo has invested in several projects in India and around the world. One such project for the cause of Education is providing microfinance to Affordable Private Schools (APS). The poor in India now, particularly in urban areas are spending their income to send their children to APS, in hope of providing good English education. Identifying financing as one of the key barriers to the growth of the APS sector globally, GGV created the Indian School Finance Company (ISFC) to provide capital to low-cost private schools across India. ISFC, a Hyderabad-based non-banking finance company (NBFC) extends medium-term loans at market rates to private schools that fall in the monthly average, student-fee range of 250-600 rupees (US$5-12).
GGV is also funding a Fellowship Program in collaboration with Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, called Fellows for India's Affordable Private Schools that facilitates selected students to live and work in Hyderabad this year, assigned to one of the APS to assist the school proprietors in strengthening the quality of the education they provide.
“I am taking my learning to do as Dr.Yunus says, inspire the young to be more involved in creating change through social business.” says Sree Kancherla who has been in the social business space for about 3 years, currently the Director of Fellowship Program for India's APS at Oglethorpe University. “The organization is developing a rating system, so that teachers and school owners are held accountable for their work, as well as measuring impact on student and parent lives adding that there are over a 100 schools in the Old City of Hyderabad involved in this rating system. “We are in our first year and have selected bright young college graduates to participate in the program. This year we have 10 Fellows (3- Oglethorpe, 2 Emory, 1 Dartmouth, 1 Welseyan (Connecticut), 2 Spellman, 1 Southern Illinois). All students are top of their class and vary in background from Economics, Math, and Education” she adds.
"Oglethorpe is tremendously excited to have begun this new fellowship program in partnership with our colleagues at Gray Ghost Ventures. We already have almost two dozen worldwide university academic partners to whom we send and receive undergraduate students each year. The opportunity for our FIAPS Fellows to spend a year working in Hyderabad greatly strengthens our increasingly international and community focus" says Dr. Larry Schall, President, Oglethorpe University. The selected students or fellows we are told will stay and work in Hyderabad on a good monthly stipend. The Fellows will not be involved in teaching, but will be working on Management, Business Development and Leadership. Sree Kancherla says they plan to scale to 50 fellows next year and on the look out for top students who are just graduating or have been out for less than 2 years and hope to place them in other portfolio companies from various sectors, such as technology, across various countries, such as Kenya and Ghana.
Dr. Yunus believes that each individual person has tremendous potential and can influence the lives of others within the communities, nations, within and beyond her or his own time. Bob Patillo, also an advocate of social business quotes “Until now, a wealthy person who decided that their family had enough, that they would like to make their wealth available for the social good and began to look for an enterprise to make that happen, their choices were limited. They could give to their church, mosque or synagogue, pay taxes to the government, or start a foundation. These have their roles and do good. I’ve engaged in all three. But when it comes to really making a dent in world poverty in a powerful, sustainable way, none compare to the promise of the social investment fund. For starters, if you write a check to the first three, it is spent and gone. A fund recycles capital, well beyond a person’s lifetime if that is their intention”.
A unique Fellowship program for the social cause of education that targets students right out of college providing some valuable experience while contributing to a greater good is noteworthy. Here’s wishing all promoters of the social business cause in Atlanta and across the globe all the very best in all their endeavors.