For-profit social entrepreneurs

In “Selling Water, Health Care In The Developing World” NPR’s John Ydstie visits a Healthpoint clinic in rural Punjab.

The Healthpoint model combines videoconferencing with cheap diagnostic tests and inexpensive water filtration all in one building. The company believes that in this way it can deliver affordable health care and clean water to the world’s low-income people — and make money doing it.


Jain says despite its low prices, Healthpoint’s water business is profitable, and it provides a constant stream of foot, bicycle and motor-bike traffic to its health clinic each day.


Jain says the eight pilot clinics are making a small profit, but obviously not enough to finance a global expansion, especially because a billion people around the world need these services. So to finance its growth, Healthpoint has looked to socially minded investors like Charly Kleissner, who’s based in Silicon Valley. […] Kleissner argues a profit-making enterprise is the only organization that can amass the resources necessary to meet the challenge. “If the objective is to grow to thousands, if not to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of villages, then there’s no foundation and no development organization that would actually be able to fund this,” he says.

According to Stephane Fitch in “The Bicycle Economy: F.K. Day designed a better machine for the developing world — then set out to teach people how to make it for themselves”

“The maintenance network is self-sustaining at this point,” Day says, meaning that the mechanics can make enough money selling services and parts to buy additional components and clear a modest profit. Eventually, Day is convinced, the manufacturer he helped set up in Zambia will become profitable even without new orders from his charity, just as the one in Sri Lanka did. While Day’s charity no longer operates in Sri Lanka, its former manufacturing partner there now profitably sells the bike model Day designed–it even exports it to bike-mad markets in Northern Europe starved for cheap, high-quality single-speed bikes.

“You can have all the goodwill in the world,” Day observes, “but if what you’re doing isn’t driven by the invisible hand of Adam Smith, you’re doomed to fail.”


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