Indian Decade

A Light Amongst Scams

The past six months have seen one corruption scandal after another in India. But there are some bright spots.

It's raining scams in India. Over the past six months, gigantic skeletons have been tumbling out of the closet in seemingly endless quantities. All through the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, for example, glaring cases of impropriety and corruption emerged to shock the nation. Close on the Games’ heels came the Adarsh housing scam in which apartments meant for widows and veterans of the Kargil War had reportedly been misappropriated by politicians and bureaucrats.

And now there’s the brouhaha over the telecom spectrum scam, in which an astonishing $40 billion may have been swindled from the country’s coffers, playing out. It's clearly depressing stuff. But I got some reprieve from the bad news with the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2010 I was reporting on last week.

Launched five years ago by the Schwab Foundation, a sister organisation of the World Economic Forum, these awards recognise extraordinary human beings who have had a significant impact on the communities they work in. These social entrepreneurs have devised innovative models for solving some of the problems the poor face in our country. This year, Rajeev Khandelwal and Krishnavatar Sharma of Aajeevika Bureau, a Rajasthan-based non-profit, won the coveted award. Aajeevika Bureau works with rural migrants and helps them secure access to photo ID cards and financial products like travel loans to ease the pain of migration.

These two alone have impacted the lives of more than 80,000 people in less than five years. Aajeevika was selected as the winner from four finalists. Two of the other finalists were working to build a low-cost health care model for rural and semi-urban India using a no-frills, economies of scale approach to bringing health care closer to hundreds of thousands of Indians.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The social entrepreneurs—and I had the privilege to interact with each of them—had an incredible, single-minded approach to the problems they had chosen to tackle. One of the most refreshing things was that there was no back patting or congratulatory celebrations, just a dignified appreciation that their work was being recognised and that this would in turn enable them to help more people.

At a time when the plundering and looting of government delivery mechanisms seems so prevalent, it was a heartening change of scene.