The World Bank's Development Marketplace, a competitive grants programme, has given grants worth $1.4 million (about Rs 8.4 crore) to 12 social enterprises in the northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram for development activities.
Of the 12 enterprises that received the grants, announced on Thursday in Guwahati, nine got $150,000 each to implement development projects over 24 months.
The remaining three got $25,000 each to invest in capacity building. Seven awardees are in the health-care sector, focused on improving access and affordability of medical services. Financial services, education, and water and sanitation were among the other sectors considered for the grants. See Pictures: World Bank gives $1.4 mn grants
"One of the major challenges for such enterprises is getting start-up finance for unproven models and management bandwidth," said Anil Sinha, Regional Head, Inclusive Business at International Finance Corporation (IFC), South Asia. The IFC is the World Bank's private-sector lending arm. Sinha said growing these social enterprises is a big hurdle towards creating maximum impact.
"While there are lot of good stories and good anecdotes, scale is the issue," he said. "One way forward to scale such enterprises is the public- private partnership model."
One of the awardees this year, SAS Poorna Arogya Healthcare started in Karnataka in 2010 and is now spreading wings to Assam. It provides health insurance amounting to Rs 6,000 a year for Rs 160 a year.
The institution works with a network of 4.5 lakh women and partners with microfinance organisations like Grameen Koota to spread the word about the service among their user base. Another Assam-based organisation which got the grant, GNRC, which has a network of three low-cost hospitals in the state, the first one starting in 1987, provides most diagnostic tests like X-ray and ECG at 60 per cent of the usual cost.
To improve access to health care, the company in 2012 started mobile medical vans to reach far-flung areas. Others who got the grant are ERC, which provides affordable eye-care services in Assam, and Shija Hospitals and Research Institute, which provides super-speciality health-care facilities at affordable rates in Mizoram.
Former World Bank awardees in health care include infant-warmer enterprise Embrace Innovation and Operation ASHA, which provides tuberculosis treatment in low-income areas. Another organisation which got the award earlier is Boat Clinics, which provides health-care services over boats to the island population of Assam.
The initiative was started in 2005 by former New York Times journalist Sanjoy Hazarika and now operates 15 boats that cover about three million people living on islands in the river Brahmaputra. The initiative is run in collaboration with the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research and the National Rural Health Mission.
The number of social enterprises in the country started rising only about seven to eight years ago. A majority of the enterprises, including microfinance institutions, is concentrated in the southern and western parts of the country.
The northeastern region is now catching up. The rise of social entrepreneurship in the region is indicated by the fact that the World Bank received as many as 200 applications from Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram after it invited applications for the grants in February.
Commenting on the need to recognise social businesses, Onno Ruhl, Country Director for India at the World Bank, said: "Solutions are best driven by people who are closest to the problem."
The World Bank Development Marketplace in India, since its inception in 2011, has given grants worth $3 million to social enterprises in states including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Globally, more than 1,200 organisations have received grants worth a total of $65 million through regional and international competitions.
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