Janani: The Rocky Road from Charity to Social Enterprise
Janani – an affiliate of the U.S.-based NGO, DKT International – offered reproductive health products and services to mostly low-income consumers from its base in Patna, Bihar. It had grown tremendously in the recent past, expanding its coverage from 8 to 25 states — almost the whole of India. Donor funding had been critical to Janani’s success, but donors were scaling back their funding in India as the economy improved and incomes increased. Janani still had three donors but funding from two of the bigger donors was expiring in 2020 and ongoing support was not assured. While Janani had made efforts to become a sustainable social enterprise, in 2019, 40 percent of Janani’s annual budget continued to be dependent on donor funding. Janani needed to figure out how to become a self-sustained organization by embracing market opportunities and achieving its mission of improving the reproductive health of lower- and lower-middle-income consumers in India.
Transforming a Supply Chain Into a Social Enterprise
For conventional, profit-seeking companies, moving into social impact carries huge contradictions. An ad hoc, small-scale initiative is an inexpensive way to do a bit of good and receive a nice warm glow in the process. But any attempt to achieve more serious impact through scaling the initiative will likely trigger awkward discussions about how much that warm glow is worth to the firm. Thus, the ceiling remains low on social impact unless it can be justified in “win-win” terms. Needless to say, this is no easy feat.
My recently published case study about Swedish oils and fats producer AAK’s “Kolo Nafaso” programme in West Africa describes how one company redefined “win-win” by creating a sustainable and scalable shea butter supply chain. In so doing, , creating ripple effects with strongly positive implications for the firm’s most important stakeholder relationships and future activities in the region.
Aarong: Social Enterprise for Bangladesh’s Rural Poor
Aarong, the retail arm of BRAC, a non-profit development organization based in Bangladesh, was created in 1978 to provide employment, income generation and social development opportunities for underprivileged women through the revival and promotion of Bangladeshi handicrafts. Profits from Aarong were used to extend such opportunities to more low-income producers and to cross-subsidize BRAC programmes for the poor. In 30 years, from a single shop, Aarong had grown into one of Bangladesh’s biggest retail chains. Its products ranged from clothing, household items, gifts and fashion accessories to children’s toys. The competition, however, was intensifying, both from local retailers in individual categories as well as foreign players, such as from India. How could Aarong compete in a global market? How could it leverage the brand, improve quality to match machine-made consistency, and keep prices competitive, while maintaining its social mission?