Driving Technology-aided Sustainability Missions for Social Cause: Why and How?

by : Rizwana Rashid


‘Sustainable’ is something that has different meanings to different people. Talk about a business, you start running it and you get some consistent return out of it and it’s sustainable. Talk about environments, you start sending people to the Mars and see that people can keep on living there and life is sustainable there. Talk about relationships, you start seeing a person and you can keep the relationship alive for the next 50 years…yeah, it’s a sustainable relationship! So, what does it all come to? You have some demand that your supply can constantly keep up with!


Now, how you think we can make an initiative for the cause of a social development ‘sustainable’? Does it feel right to bring in the idea of business with social development initiatives? Development works for social causes are, simply put, development initiatives that are purely for the good of the people and societies in need for help. Usually, the channel for financial support is assumed to be charity and the lifespan of such initiatives are so long as the charity lives…and you cannot demand one’s charity to be there for good. So, how can you really ensure sustainability of such initiatives for the cause of a social development?




The perception of development initiatives has a lot to do with the culture and practices especially in the developing countries. We see such initiatives fitting for only the impoverished sections of the society which are failing to meet its basic needs; to be supportable only through donor grants and/or CSR and meant to be carried out as long as the fund lasts; and it is never meant for income generating and self-sustainable. Alongside this very charity-dependent outlook, business is seen to be something not relevant to make any impact on the development frontier; the positive-most perception of it is if business manages to do any social good, it’s just a byproduct of the initiative. Businesses are solely seen to have only profitability in mind.


Having this attitude towards development initiatives, we necessarily limit (if not do wrong with) the scope and impact of the endeavor. In designing, we tend to rely too much on the tradition keeping with the stereotype development agenda and methods fitting with interest of the donors. We go about with the set formulae again dictated by tradition and donors. In doing so, at times, the impact quality is compromised to accommodate volume. Also, there is something called ‘Pilotitis’ – doing pilots after pilots and the roll-out does not take place as these pilots consume the fund that is allocated. Finally, the worst of all – these initiatives are destined to be free! No business-orientation can ever be around…even if it caters social needs and offers a pledge for quality and sustainability.




Let’s consider the following questions:

  • Do people always want to get things for free? Maybe people from the impoverished section want it for free (as they’ve been made accustomed to), but do all want it free?
  • Are people not willing to pay a justifiable amount for a quality service that delivers a value to him?
  • Isn’t it possible to make profits out of activities carried out for social need?
  • Isn’t it worth trying to give continuous efforts to improve the quality of the service as well as make it user friendly and engaging enough so that people are ready to pay for it and help it grow out of charity- dependency?
  • Why can’t we perceive mHealth, mEducation, mAgriculture or any other mDevelopment initiatives as commercial Value Added Services (VAS)? These services are market-driven and generate revenue.




The concept of commercial viability of mDevelopment services are increasingly becoming popular all over the world. The idea is NOT to address health, agriculture, education and all other required services as services for “underprivileged” segment only through donations and free infrastructure, but to create a mechanism so that people are incentivized to pay for quality services.



A model that can give sustenance to the social development initiatives based on value creation as well as not depending on charity follows:


People love quality products and quality services. Also, most of the people are also prepared to pay for quality services regardless if they belong to urban, semi-rural or rural classes. Customers are smart, a lot smarter than what service providers think of them. So, essentially any service that is subpar in quality is destined to fail, whether it’s a free or paid one. In most cases, the first impulse from people is to say no to a paid service, especially which have traditionally seen as free. Also in many cases, there are services and products that are new to the market and they aim to tap an untapped area of client need. So, it is important to do some need infusion in some cases, where need identification will not work. If proper positioning of a quality service is in place, it is bound to be popular!


Rizwana Rashid is the Head of VAS Operations, SSD-TECH Sdn. Bhd. She can be reached auni@ssd-tech.com.

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