Alternative Business Models: Where People and Planet Matter
Circular Economy

Alternative Business Models: Where People and Planet Matter

Merging profit with purpose often requires entirely new outlooks at familiar challenges

Here are three case studies where alternative platforms, approaches and business models have been put to work, profitably, both for people and the planet.

 Socially-conscious business approaches


A microfinance institution turned full-spectrum service provider of all financial needs for the urban poor.

A microfinance institution turned full-spectrum service provider
Microfinance model in India

There will be more than 800 million people living in India’s urban areas by 2050. Much of this growth will come from migration of the people from rural villages, who will be working under severe condition with low income. The needs of such informal workers — those participating in an economy neither taxed or monitored likevegetable vendors and flower sellers, carpenters and plumbers, drivers and mechanics, domestic helpers and beauticians — differ significantly from those in formal employment.

In 1999, when Swati and Ramesh Ramathanathan moved back to India from their respective banking careers abroad, they began to listen closely to the needsand challenges ofinformal workers. They needed savings accounts, access to health and life insurance, education loans, pensions and retirement plans and even financial support to grow their own micro-enterprises — all of which were inaccessible to them through formal banking systems. With all of this in mind, Janalakshmi decided to outgrow the boundaries of microfinance and become a ‘360-degree financial services company for all the needs of the urban poor’.

Their transition into a full-spectrum service provider was made possible by creating a two-tier structure. On one hand, their for-profit company raises capital from investors and is run as a full-service financial institution; while on the other, their non-profit carries out projects to deepen their understanding of the challenges of inclusion, address policy challenges and help customers in improving their pathways to prosperity.


A crowd-sourced, map-based family of apps working to make communities and cities safer for women.

 Crowd-sourced data for urban safety

In 2013, Kalpana Viswanath, an expert in gender and urbanization issues, founded Safetipin to merge new technology with a mission to address women’s safety in public spaces. Safetipin began an online participation platform for women in India to help one another identify unsafe public areas. At its core are safety “audits”, which assess and rate public spaces based on their relative level of safety and inclusivity, comparing factors ranging from lighting and crowd levels to the proximity of safe public transport.

Crowd-sourced data for urban safety
Scalability is in its crowd-sourced data generation

The power of the app’s scalability is in its crowd-sourced data generation. Rather than relying on officials to survey areas, the audits are fed by user data, which is then verified by trained auditors and other users. The initiative begins a conversation about whether a shared understanding and imagination of safer spaces can be co-created by the women that use them. In the end, the data is leveraged to strategically improve the actual design and safety of the public spaces — thereby using digital space to physically build safer cities for women.


A constellation of organizations working to electrify India by debunking common myths about rural energy access.

Rural energy access in India
Electrifying rural India

With a huge landmass and an average of 300 sunny days a year, India has the theoretical potential to provide clean solar power for the entire nation, dozens of times over. However, until recently, solar energy generation was nowhere near the horizon. There was a common public perception that poor people cannot afford or maintain sustainable technologies, and that no social ventures in the solar energy space could be run as commercial entities.

SELCO was founded in 1995 in order to disprove that misconception and use energy as a vehicle to catalyze progress in a variety of areas — from health to education. A key to their unconventional model was to regard the poor not as recipients, but as partners and enterprise owners. By approaching those in need of electrification as potential collaborators, they were able to build their organization as an inclusive, sustainable solution that provides economic and social stability not only in the short-term, but in the future as well.

SELCO provides solar products for homes in India

What kind of social innovation have you encountered in your communities? Are there similar concepts that could be applied to the mobility industry?

Share your thoughts below in the FUSO Greenlab comments section.


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