Reaching Out to the Unreached
In a world with over 6 billion mobiles in a population of 7 billion, 4 billion
people across the globe remain
unreached. Communication at best can
be an enabler and cannot be a provider.
Unreached has traditionally been treated
outside the government and the business
domains and specialized non-state
organizations treat this sector as their
core domain and also their competency.
Beyond the realm of varieties of NGO’s,
we have organizations which are
considered as charitable and religious
institutions. The sum total of all these, is to provide succor to teeming
billions below the human existential levels.
I have a deep understanding of this sector based on my interaction with
the national and international NGOs when I was working for the United
Nation in Kosovo as part of the Peacekeeping operations in 2000-01. In the
years 2005-06, I had the opportunity to work as a Deputy/Acting Sector
Commander at Wau in Southern Sudan, which is the newest country today.
As it was a part of a unified command I worked in collaboration with the
International NGO fraternity. In my earlier years of years of service I have
worked as the Supervisory officer of the family counseling center located
on the campus of Bangalore Police Commissioner’s Office. Recently, I
have been the Vice – President of the NGO what runs the very successful
women and child helplines in the city.
This article will take us through the identification of the unreached, their
types, what all is to be reached and by which agencies. The role of Indian
welfare state, which happens to the biggest social service organization,
though it has not been famed in that manner. Who fills the void beyond
this? The NGOs and the charitable organizations and the omnipresent
United Nations, which also provides for the documentation and
accreditation in this field. In the in final part, I will be dealing with the well
known Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, and a new concept Beyond
CSR, its business with the BoP sector, business opportunities which
remain untapped for lack of creativity and innovation and a mindset that
traditional areas of business are the only viable ones.
Unreached though has been understood as an economic concept, it is
comprehensive in nature, directly related to the lack of fulfillment of
nationally/globally accepted parameters of human existence. The
unreached can be divided on various parameters, most critical of which
being economic and social, political and geographic and based on health
and education. There is also a sector which remains unreached because
of gender and age, as in the case of women and children. And above and
beyond all unreached because of attitude, can be of any number of
varieties but the best exemplified would be apartheid and the Indian caste
system, which continues to play havoc to the modern Indian society as
The paramount question is why we need to reach them today, they have
been on the periphery of human existence since ages. The concept of a
Welfare State is totally different
from all other political and
administrative mechanisms which
have existed in the history of
mankind. Welfare State aims at
social, economic and political
equity. The NGOs got created to fill
the void in the governmental depth
of functioning and effectiveness in
this sector and have tended to specialize during their process of gaining
maturity. As the concept of business went beyond business, there
emerged the concept and necessity of Corporate Social Responsibility,
which slowly has got legally mandated. Seeing this trend, large number of
organizations, religious and otherwise are jumping on to the social
bandwagon in a big way.
A welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key
role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being
of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity,
equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable
to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general
term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organizations.
The Social Service Sector
The govt. is the biggest social service organisation in this country, which is
permanent in nature and is guided by the constitution. As per Economic
Survey 2010-11, the total funding to social services between the centre
and the states was about 25% of all our budgetary allocation, on
education, health and other related sectors. That figure is Rs 5,22,492
crore for 2010-11. To express it internationally, this translates to $115
billion or $100 per person per year. Education accounts for 45% of this
allocation and the share of the health sector is 19%. This huge funding can
be utilized more efficiently with a much better impact on the target group,
if all stakeholders opine for structural and procedural changes. This is a
critical issue as not only the quantum of funding is very huge, so is its
growth rate. The figures quoted have doubled in the four years preceding
that financial year referred to!
Government Poverty Alleviation Programs
From IRDP in 1978 to Mahatma Gandhi NAREGA, all revolutionary poverty
alleviation programs have become household names throughout rural
India. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by
guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a
rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual
work. There cannot be a more revolutionary social service program around
the globe. Though PDS works as a government department, it is certainly a
transformational poverty alleviation program even with most of its
All facets of social and economic well being of the unreached are catered
to by the government programs and services. Beyond programs, the
government aims at empowerment of all unreached classes, women, SCs,
STs, backward classes and whole of the rural country side itself. Political
empowered through Panchayati Raj has been changing the face of the
nation itself. The representation of women and the other underprivileged
classes like the SCs, STs and OBCs have added a new dimension to large
scale empowerment and is in the process of making Indian democracy
both robust and inclusive.
Do the Unreached Remain So…
The reality glares on the faces of the planners of this country. Large
groups remain below the benchmarked level of goods and services. On the
Human Development Indices we are still amongst the worst in the world.
Though all the programs have been grandiose and effective at the planning
stage, the final delivery of lots of these programs can be debated upon,
host of such programs are a complete spectrum in itself from PDS to
Electronic Direct Cash Transfer Scheme based on Aadhar.
Non Governmental Organizations
Professor Akira Iriye defines NGO as "a voluntary non-state, non-profit,
non-religious, and non-military association.” One of the earliest mentions
of the acronym "NGO" was in 1945, when the UN was created. These
activities might include human rights, environmental or development
work. The number of NGOs operating in the United States is estimated at
40,000, Russia has 2,77,000 NGOs, India is estimated to have around 3.3
million NGOs in the year 2009, which is just over one NGO per 400 Indians.
The best represented sub-sectors overall were Development, followed by
Health, Education, Children & Youth, Environment and Peace-building. In
the multilateral context alone, the number of UN-accredited NGOs had
risen from 40 in 1945 to 3,536 by the end of 2011.
Governmental funding for NGOs from my point of view is a debatable
issue, the basic differentiation between and State and Non-State sectors
gets completely lost, this differentiation has been at the genesis of these
organizations. Recent years are replete with instances of outright misuse
of government funds, audit reports to prove the same and efforts to keep
out large portion of this funding outside the audit process. I have also
contended that Audit should be a monopoly State function, wherever
public money is put to use, in an article recently written on that subject.
A charitable organization is a type of non-profit organization (NPO). It
differs from other types of NPOs in that it centers on non-profit and
philanthropic goals as well as social well-being e.g. charitable,
educational, religious, or other activities serving the public interest or
common good. Social Service actually emanated out of these
organizations. NGOs, I presume is a later addition to this social
responsibility for which these charitable institutions have been working for
Though UNO is not a NGO and plays multifarious roles in world’s polity,
society and economy and also set standards for lot many world issues and
documents and monitors world major issues in every sphere of life.
Nonetheless, it has been playing a major role in reaching to the unreached
across the globe very effectively and help build capacity in such areas and
sectors for sustainable growth and poverty alleviation and empowerment
of such sector through its agencies, UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO, WFO, FAO,
worldwide. Its global peacekeeping operations provides for the security in
war torn areas before, even the work can be initiated in the social sector. It
sets the stage to reach the unreached in a meaningful manner.
Corporate Social Responsibility
“Corporate Social Responsibility” refers to
all activities undertaken by the corporate
entity to sub serve common good, to serve
the society which is its customer or
provides for the ecosystem which sustains
it or both. Legality has crept in CSR over
the years. CSR, the acronym by which it is
CSR - Virtue Matrix
generally known, came into vogue in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It
ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards
and international norms. The concept of stakeholder has slowly been
growing and today this all comprehensive concept has become a part of
the business model and a stage further the DNA of the Corporations –
Indians or MNCs. It encourages a positive impact through its activities on
the environment, consumers, employees, communities and stakeholders.
A more common approach to CSR is corporate philanthropy.
Beyond CSR, It’s Business
Nearly 65% of the world’s population earns less than $2000 per year, that
aggregates to around 4 billion people. As per the traditional economic
thinking they have very little to spend on both goods and services and
corruption, substandard infrastructure and red tape bottlenecks have
been eating into any proposed effort to treat them as a potential market.
Of late many multinationals have made inroads into this new type of
markets, political reforms, congenial investment climate and low cost
wireless communication paving the way. The road map is clear, the market
divide has to be bridged in an innovative manner.
Its no gainsaying the individual incomes are low, as aggregation creates a
major market. Bangladesh Grameen Telecom is a great example of
generating $90 to $1000 from one single village. Micro-credit of Mohd
Yunus has changed the life of millions of underprivileged and also added a
new dimension of our business thought process, that a customer
necessarily need not be a moneyed person.
The Real Story
Dharavi example has proved olden concepts wrong. The poor often buy
luxury items. Dharavi slum’s 85% households own TVs, 75% use pressure
cookers and 56% have gas stoves. Common experience shows that the
bottom of pyramid pays more than the middle class. For a necessity as
water they have to pay 100 times more. Food is 20% costlier and rate of
daily interest is pegged at 10% to 15%, the annual rate reaching an
astronomical 2000% times. The rates of microfinance is way ahead of the
rates as which the moneyed class gets its loans, at the rate of 40% to 70%
It is surprisingly cheap to market and deliver products/services to the
world’s poor, which lives in areas of the big cities which are most densely
populated. Collectively, 1300 largest cities would account for 1.5 billion to
2 billion population. As it stands, roughly half of the BoP consumers are
now served by informal economies. The poor in Rio de Janeiro have a total
purchasing power of $1.2 billion. Few very reliable estimates about the
value of business transactions indicate a very thriving business activity.
Dhaaravi generates estimated $450 million in manufacturing revenues or
about $1 million one acre of land.
Business beyond CSR, the Rural Poor!
Around 60% of India’s GDP is generated in rural areas. The critical barrier
is not the purchasing power but the distribution access. New information
technology and communications are breaking the barriers in a manner our
generation had not imagined. Clearly, the poor communities are ready to
adopt new technologies and in return the technologies should improve
their economic opportunities and their quality of life. This is the trade off
they are looking for.
The choice is between Microfinance and Moneylender. The issue revolves
around the thriving informal economies and MNCs working on acceptable
return on investment for goods and services. This model outbeats the
goods and services in quality and is an excellent sustainable business
model. The experience of NGOs, entrepreneurial start ups and few MNCs
are a proof of concept for this model. Business can gain three advantages
by serving the poor namely:
• A new source of revenue growth
• Greater efficiency
• Access to Innovation
Consortia is being suggested to leverage the inadequacies of the
purchasing power and the market mechanism. Imagine sharing the cost of
a building for a rural network with the communications company that
would operate it, a consumer goods company seeking channels to expand
its sales and a bank that would be financing the construction and wants to
give loans to and collect deposits from rural customers.
Some Live Examples
Citibank’s ATM based banking experiment in India, called Suvidha, which
requires a minimum deposit of just $25, enlisted 150,000 customers in one
year in the city of Bangalore alone. Hindustan Lever operates a $2.6
billion business portfolio in this sector with zero business capital. ITC’s
agribusiness division has deployed a total of 970 kiosks serving 600,000
farmers, supplying soy, coffee, shrimps and wheat from 5000 villages
across India. eCommerce systems over phone and internet have a
demonstrated capability of completely eliminating intermediaries. It’s a
welcome relief to the Indian countryside.
The Main Issue
Unless CEO’s and other business leaders confront their own perceptions,
companies are likely to master the challenges of the BoP market.
Innovation would remain a hollow word for all those who are in real need of
it, whereas it would be lapped on the wealthy for relatively cheaper and
better products and services, making their world a even better place to
live in, leaving the Bo P to their own fate. A mass scale education in the
MNCs to change the mindset of the decision makers is the need of the
The tall claims of organizations of every
type, its leaders and of nations of
bringing in a world order, based on equity
is still miles and miles away from reality.
Milestones have been achieved
undeniably but what is disturbing is the
nature and cost of the progress towards
this goal. The cost benefit analysis
portrays a very bleak picture as well. It’s never too late, for all
stakeholders: Governments, NGOs, Charitable Organizations to rewrite
and execute their strategies to bring transformational change for the
positive, in the lives of the unreached.