Professor speaks at global conference in India

Prahlad Kasturi

Prahlad Kasturi

RU Professor Prahlad Kasturi, chair of the Department of Economics, addressed an international audience of entrepreneurs at the recent International Leadership Summit 2013 in Kochi, India.

Kasturi discussed the opportunities inherent in social entrepreneurship—use of entrepreneurial principles to create and manage a venture toward a desired social change—as a solution to developing countries' challenges, including renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and water projects.

As one of the conference's five featured "thought leaders,"  Kasturi joined humanitarian leader, spiritual teacher and peace ambassador Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Tony Lenart, an international trainer in transformational leadership. The Jan. 7 event was hosted by IBTL, an Indian media company, and SemSil Technologies. Among the topics of the conference were business management, leadership, global business opportunities and networking.

"The times are propitious for businesses that can have a social and environmental impact," Kasturi said. "Cuts in spending in developing countries have made a need for alternative delivery of the services once delivered by governments, or a market solution."

During his 40-minute presentation, Kasturi cited the growth in the United States of "B," or benefit, corporations. He shared with the more than 900 delegates from Asia and Africa his review of the recent scholarship on these market-driven organizations and the ongoing effort to verify and measure their economic, social and environmental returns on investment.

In the United States, quality of life is measured in access to education, upward mobility and traffic gridlock, among other criteria. The struggle for the basics of a quality life is different and elemental in many places of the world, Kasturi said, and the entrepreneurial approach can be a solution.

"With over 1 billion people unemployed across the world, just think of the possibilities of putting people to work on these important social and environmental causes," he said of the "unconventional" approach to improving the quality of life across the developing world.

Kasturi said one of the best-known social entrepreneurship initiatives is the Grameen Bank, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning microfinance and community development bank that makes small loans to the impoverished on the theory that the poor have skills that are underutilized. A group-based credit approach uses peer pressure within the group to ensure that borrowers follow through and use caution in conducting their financial affairs. The bank also accepts deposits, provides other services and runs several development-oriented businesses, including fabric, telephone and energy companies. A distinctive feature of the bank's credit program is that the 98 percent of its borrowers are women.

"The developing world is a fertile ground for social entrepreneurship activities to grow and organize," Kasturi said.  "But public acceptance is important."