Sharing Session – 28

 Social Entrepreneurship and the Quest for Economic Democracy

  Date and Time: March 16, 2013, 1430 – 1630 hrs

 Venue: IDC Conference Room No.1, IIT-Bombay (Powai)

An excitement about Social Entrepreneurship now dominates the public discourse in India. To a large extent this excitement is a response to the urgent need to address and solve the nagging problems of large scale under-employment and persistent under nourishment. Much of the attention is at present focused on operational details – how to push more finance into Social Enterprise, how to measure its impacts, how to ensure that it reaches small towns and rural hinterland, and so on.

Rajni Bakshi, Joseph Thomas will facilitate and Shambu Prasad will chair the session.


What is largely missing from the mainstream discourse are any questions about and reflections on more fundamental questions like: just how should we define development? Is livelihood generation necessarily going to foster economic democracy? And what indeed is economic democracy?

At present the discourse about Social Entrepreneurship and Enterprise is mostly focused on mechanisms that reach 'the bottom of the pyramid' more effectively than either governments or conventional businesses have managed to do. There is need to create spaces within this discourse for asking if (and how) the Indian social enterprise sector could be a vehicle for fostering a new kind of economic model – one that can grapple with both the social and environmental crisis generated by the dominant model of even ‘sustainable’ development?

There is need to look at these questions not just with reference to work in the activist sector of India over the last 40 odd years but in a more futuristic way by drawing on global trends intellectually and in practice. This may compel us to explore, as yet barely imagined, links between society and markets, community life and commerce, trusteeship and philanthropy. It is not enough to ask if Social Enterprise is a way of making a fortune from the bottom of the pyramid or generating a fortune for those at the bottom of the pyramid. The key question is: in what ways, if at all, can social enterprise be one way of challenging the pyramid shaped power structure.

The introduction by Rajni Bakshi would be followed up by Joseph Thomas as a discussant. Joseph Thomas will speak about the difference in contexts of social entrepreneurship in the West and India with specific reference to agriculture and energy. He would also raise questions on scale and growth and why not all value in the Indian context is necessarily scalable and why such social innovations still need to be considered seriously. Joseph will also suggest how social enterprises can benefit more by encouraging greater sharing and cooperation rather than overly focusing on competition. The discussion will be moderated by C Shambu Prasad, Professor, Xavier Institute of Management, who will briefly discuss about Knowledge in Civil Society and its mandate.

Rajni Bakshi isa writer and researcher based in Mumbai and an associate of the Centre for Education and Documentation. She is currently the Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House: the Indian Council on Global Relations. Over the last decade and a half she has concentrated on studying the interface between society and markets. This exploration was partly captured in her book "Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom: for a market culture beyond greed and fear" in 2009.

Joseph Thomas has, for over three decades, taking technology solutions to rural areas for the general improvement in the quality of life of the people there. He has helped implement social innovations in diverse areas such as sustainable energy, organic cultivation, and information and communication technologies. Having gained expertise in his many years at the Shri AMM Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre (MCRC), Chennai, Joseph is now a Project Consultant at the Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CSIE) at IIT-Madras.

CED will share the sharing session live over the Internet in order to enable those from outside Bombay. To access go to You can also access from your ipad or iphone

Sharing session is one of the regular activities of Knowledge In Civil Society trust (KICS, . These are organised around contemporary themes relevant to KICS work as an exercise of learning from each other. The objective is to deepen our shared understanding of the theme and to appreciate the key cross linkages, especially in the realm of Science, Technology & Society.