The Indian subcontinent is developing at an accelerated rate. However, with the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, as well as the continued environmental impact of industry in the region, it seems that quality is often compromised for the sake of growth.

“Sustainability” has therefore become one of the hottest buzzwords in the region.

With many companies appointing sustainability teams and working to create more long-term solutions for the planet, the rise of social enterprise has been seen as a viable means of sustainability delivery.

This would be through the reduction of transportation of goods, by providing equitable employment and fostering entrepreneurial spirit to create low-cost and effective solutions for communities.

The traditional company structure creates logistical systems for transport of goods, with farms or production plants to process raw materials, and hires and trains employees from around the world in the factory process.

In contrast, in a social entrepreneurial venture, logistics needs are mostly for the delivery of the finished product, while employees are selected from local communities, as seen in the Danone-Grameen model of Bangladesh.

These pros would lead to better sustainability and consumption of the foods without the additional burden of transport, as one of the greatest issues for industries is “food miles”: how far an item of food travels to be consumed and the carbon footprint it acquires due to long journeys, sometimes across continents. The promotion of “buy and eat local” is another concept that is being adopted for sustainability on the Indian subcontinent.

The involvement of communities would ensure that an environmental or social purpose is met, and also ensure that the quality of services and goods offered is to a higher standard.

Another positive aspect of social enterprise is the reduced need for marketing of products, as the consumers are already involved in the creation process. Therefore through community-driven social media campaigns, a company can be popularized even further.

Social enterprises also take employee satisfaction to a new level as the workers are able to be around their support systems, especially their families, which tend to be very closely knit on the Indian subcontinent. Therefore the productivity level of employees could be higher, while transport costs are reduced.

However, there may be cons to the process, including the lack of legal frameworks and the excess of legal loopholes regarding sustainability and social enterprise in the region. Also the involvement of communities may sometimes be a hindrance, especially as there are too many demands from the employees, leading to strikes or closure of ventures.

Social enterprise is fast growing on the Indian subcontinent due to the social impact it creates, and it is here for good. However, the importance and emphasis placed on sustainability and the transformations that social enterprise is able to bring remains to be seen. But it could become something special – something that protects the bottom line for the long run, and the greater good.

Author: Anoka Primrose Abeyrathne is an environmentalist and sustainable development advocate, and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper based in Colombo hub. 

Image: Students make a formation of a tree during a programme to create awareness to save trees and forests, in the southern Indian city of Chennai June 28, 2011. REUTERS/Babu