In the blog series #economyforall, we speak to and feature views and opinions of entrepreneurs, investors, academicians and influencers on the nature of inequality in India and can social entrepreneurship address it. In this article, we spoke to Priya Naik, CEO of Samhita to understand her views on this topic.
Raised in Mumbai and in the Middle East, Priya Naik, Founder and CEO of Samhita, wasn’t exposed to the ground reality until she came to India. When she saw the poverty around her, she couldn’t ignore it.
Poverty, Inequality And The Birth Of Samhita
“When you don’t belong to that place, you don’t speak that language, it is difficult to understand the undercurrents of poverty. I understood the gravity and complexity of poverty in Africa when I came from there.”
“Here, we tend to broad brush it saying ‘somebody was born poor and will stay poor.’ We attribute it to caste, land rights and a whole bunch of things. But the reality is it’s not one or the other, it’s many many many things, working together ensuring that people stay poor.”
While pursuing her PhD in developmental economics from Yale, Priya spent some time in India doing her dissertation while working with Seva bank. There while interacting with customers from BOP she realised that we sit in our comfort zones blaming the poor for the condition they are in.
“That’s not true. They are in fact optimising for survival with whatever they have at their disposal. This whole western narrative that people are poor because they are stupid is absolutely wrong. Whatever you do for them should be sustainable, for the people and by the people.”
Samhita means “collective good.” Samhita is a for-profit organisation helping people and organisations “do good better” by creating symbiotic relationships between those who are bringing about change on the ground and those who have the means and resources to enable that change.
“Samhita started for two reasons. One, because there are a large number of individuals – the government, the foundations. Everyone is trying to get money into the social sector. But there is no-one looking into this picture, holistically.”
Second reason being, corporates want to do something good for the community and Samhita works towards utilising the core competencies of corporates, to create solutions that would solve problems at BoP level.
How Can Social Entrepreneurship Solve The Problem Of Inequality?
Social entrepreneurship has time and again proven to be the most sustainable solution to create long-term interventions for the marginalized communities.
“Change is happening. But it is very fragmented right now. For instance, in Bangladesh, it is one nation, one language and a centrally operating model of intervention, like Grameen bank. In India, however, we have a fragmented approach where different states carry out development at their level. Every stakeholder has their own agenda and there is no unified approach towards bringing about development.”
Inequality and poverty are complex. It takes multiple players like government, entrepreneurs, corporates, NGOs, startups and communities. Different people have different strengths and the voice of the community, their participation, their ownership is paramount.
Samhita is tackling the problem of poverty and inequality by bringing together all these stakeholders together. In one of their upcoming projects, Samhita is taking up the Swachh Bharat initiative of the government and trying to streamline its rollout at ground level.
Just as any social enterprise is a reflection of its founder, Samhita is a reflection of Priya’s journey, her ideologies and her vision towards bringing together all the stakeholders to create sustainable change. Samhita’s interventions are holistic in nature, ensuring cross-functional impact.