Business Today

Social Gems

At a fest organised in Hyderabad late February by Ashoka-The Lemelson Foundation, the world's most respected social entrepreneur grouping, two Indians and a Nepali shone.

E. Kumar Sharma | Print Edition: March 21, 2010

Not only has Pradip Kumar Sarmah, a veterinary doctor by profession, developed a safe and ergonomic cycle rickshaw, he has also set rolling a self-employment programme for marginalised rickshaw pullers. Dubbed the "Rickshaw Bank", the initiative issues an asset-based loan to a rickshaw puller, who can repay the debt in daily installments of some Rs 25 over 18 months.

So, while a regular rickshaw costs Rs 8,500, a Rickshaw Bank variant comes for Rs 13,000 and besides a pullerfriendly rickshaw, it has accident and life insurance, uniforms, a licence and photo ID thrown in. Advertising on the rickshaw's canopy has the likes of ONGC, Indian Oil and Hindustan Unilever signing up. The Rickshaw Bank has "sold" 5,000 rickshaws so far in Assam, Tripura, Chennai and Surat (where it is a push cart with a similar model) and Sarmah's plans are to sell one lakh rickshaws in five years.

Kathmandu-based Anil Chitrakar's portable solar-powered invention lights a lamp and runs a radio making it a pretty substitute for kerosene and rechargeable batteries, both of which are not quite environment-friendly. Here's the clincher: Connected to an electrode, it produces chlorine (used to disinfect water) from salt water. All this comes on some Rs 2,500 credit repayable over 500 days.

Evidently, Hilmi Quraishi, co-founder and chief learning technologist at ZMQ Software Systems, knows how to grab attention. His public health messaging built around HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is embedded in mobile phone games. Also delivered is treatment management tips such as when to take medicines. ZMQ has a revenue-sharing model for games with telecom operators (he subsidises the cost of free games by selling commercial games). The Quraishi Effect: ZMQ has recorded 10.3 million social game downloads to date and he is targeting a billion in three years.

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