On our recent trip to Roorkee, India, to visit the IIT there, we had an opportunity to meet retired Prof. Bhupinder Singh. Dr. Singh gave us a great overview of a social business he has been helping to develop, which is covered in this article in India Today. In a small Punjab town, near the Pakistan border, he has worked with a couple of groups on the bicycle rickshaw business. In cities, India has the ubiquitous three wheeled autorickshaw but outside the cities,

where the pace is a little less insane, there are human powered bicycle rickshaws. The design of these hasn’t changed much over the years, and they are not always either the most comfortable to ride or pedal.

Dr. Singh worked with some IIT students to redesign the rickshaws to make them both more efficient to pedal but also more appealing and user-friendly to riders. That’s good but the most interesting part of the business is the organization. This is a key element to any social business, namely getting the community integration right. In this case, they had to organize the rickshaw pullers (the drivers). Typically one person owns a bunch of these and the pullers just rent them for the day, and keep whatever they make over the rental. And there is no organization to speak of. So Dr. Singh worked on creating an association of rickshaw pullers, which gave them more clout in getting things done, benefits, and a central dispatching service. It also allowed the pullers to begin to own their own rickshaws, which in the long run benefits them financially. A nice case study. The plan still needs some work on business model to make it scalable, especially for the rickshaw design, Acara may stay engaged with this team.
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