A conversation with BloodLink’s Founder and CEO, Amit Lohiya, about his take on Social Entrepreneurship.
Why Social Entrepreneurship?
I always wanted to find a way of solving problems involving social issues in a sustainable way. Social entrepreneurship allows me to create an organization that is neither “all for profit” nor an NGO. Social enterprises are ‘purpose driven’ organizations blended with a profit angle. This makes social enterprises a more sustainable model in the long run. BloodLink’s purpose as a social enterprise is to tackle blood shortage globally, which is a very sensitive issue in most countries.
All businesses claim to solve some problems, how is a social enterprise different?
Social enterprises come under the fourth sector. This is where enterprises use a business model to solve a problem that has a societal impact. Secondly, social entrepreneurship pushes you to think in a people centric way. With BloodLink, it’s all about people and society. BloodLink as a company has incorporated local idiosyncrasies in its approach and solution. If you look at the hybrid spectrum, the traditional non profit enterprise is at one end and the traditional for profit shareholder driven organizations are at the other end. Bloodlink falls somewhere in the middle.
We want to create an impact by converting a blood deficient India into a blood sufficient India. It will also mean a lot for the blood collection market in general. There are many businesses that are part of the blood collection market, such as syringes, pipes, and blood bags. This initiative will also help their businesses to grow. This is a good example of how a social impact is connected to business.
What is the problem that you have identified and how are you responding to it?
WHO has published that there is a global annual shortage of 40 million units of blood. Most of this shortage is in developing countries. In India, which our first market, there is a documented shortage of 3 million blood units, fueling a “Black Market” of blood.
The most impacted people are patients with cancer or thalassemia, or people affected by accidents, natural disasters and epidemics like dengue. To counter this problem, we are building an online platform that will connect all stakeholder
s in the blood transfusion landscape – hospitals, donors, patients, blood banks, blood donation camps and NGO’s. The idea is to use technology to make the process of getting blood from donor to patient as easy and as seamless as possible. This will reduce the problem of blood shortage and eliminate the black market for blood.
How do you accelerate your development by collaborating with other stakeholders in society?
Being a startup, we need to leverage and collaborate with many different stakeholders to move ahead. BloodLink is a Danish company based in Copenhagen, and therefore collaborates with several Danish entities. Thinkubator, for example, was an accelerator programme based in Copenhagen that we participated in earlier this year. We also collaborated with Copenhagen Business School and their school of entrepreneurship, before moving to a health tech incubator at Copenhagen University which is where we are currently based.
This online platform is a massive project, and right now we are in the early stages of our startup journey. However collaborating with these Danish stakeholders has helped us tremendously to move from the idea stage to building our first prototype for the Indian market. In addition, we are also concentrating on collaborating with stakeholders in India, such as building relationships with NGO’s and blood banks in Bangalore and Mumbai. These will be our early adopters and co creation partners for our first prototype, who will test the product, give feedback, and help us to improve our next version.
How can social enterprises measure success – by profit, social impact or both? How will you measure social impact?
We measure success through profit and social impact. In BloodLink’s situation, social impact could be the elimination of black market and the elimination of blood shortage. This is a pretty quantifiable and measurable metric, and will be one of our main KPIs. For profit we are experimenting with business models and plan to invest a certain percentage of our profits back into the company so that the company grows.
What are the things that keep potential social entrepreneurs from succeeding and fulfilling their potential?
For entrepreneurs in general it’s the uncertainty and the unknown. For social entrepreneurs there are lot of things missing in the support environment.
Globally, there is lot of support for entrepreneurs. That support comes from many areas, such as governments who offer tax rebates, to numerous investors who reach out to entrepreneurs. There are also many incubators, accelerators, and corporates that come forward to regular entrepreneurs.
Social entrepreneurs, on the other hand, can face challenges because these traditional stakeholders don’t yet see value in social impact or see how social impact will be good for their business. Therefore, social entrepreneurs have to work harder to communicate and convince people about their operating model.
Nevertheless, social enterprises have gained momentum and are attracting a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs who believe in starting a business that makes a social impact. It’s definitely a much needed shift in the business world, where profits and social good can co exist.