Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives with the Leprosy affected communities Across India
Introduction: Leprosy causes disability and a public health problem till today, though it is one of the ancient diseases. It causes damage to the skin and peripheral nerves leading to deformities, loss of limbs. The people affected by leprosy are ostracized to live in segregated remote locations often rejected from any social interactions, forced to live on begging. The epidemiology (WHO, 2013) showed a prevalence of 8.38 cases per 10000 inhabitants in Southeast Asia region. In the year 2012, about 2.3 lakhs new cases of leprosy were detected and more than half of them were from India. Though in 2005, India officially eliminated leprosy. Social stigma attached to the disease makes them mostly socially disabled to pursue any livelihood other than living on alms. In India, there are more than 1000 leprosy colonies, located in cities to remote corners of India.
Purpose: This research was part of a consultancy project to evaluate the livelihood interventions (by an NGO) for entrepreneurship development among the leprosy affected communities to raise dignity. Further, strengthening the social entrepreneurship perspective is highlighted to explore the innovative solution of the multidimensional social problems with the most ancient disease.
Methodology: Twenty six colonies were selected by the NGO to visit and evaluate the livelihood projects. Semi-structured interview schedule was developed. Interviews with the beneficiary, and FGD were conducted to explore the livelihood ventures, and entrepreneur abilities.
Result: The evaluation reflected a number of opportunities and challenges at the grassroots level. The disease leprosy becomes part of identity that destroys their confidence, self-worth and dignity and living on alms becomes part of self-fulfilling justification. A conscious focus on the strength of the people in connection with the opportunities for livelihood, with an inclusive approach of promoting group identity become most important factors for developing and sustaining an entrepreneurship at the grass roots level for marginalised leprosy affected people. The chance of success is higher while the community has a trusting bond with an effective colony leader, irrespective of the geographical location or distance from the market. The innovative approaches in removing the social barrier and merging the economic opportunities were crucial to establish the model as a viable social entrepreneurship approach.