An entrepreneur turns cellphones into 'rewarding' opportunities for India's working poor.

Finally, a loyalty program that's truly worth the spending.

Hard work is the key to success ... right?

Well, that's what they say. But even some of the world's wildest successes would say it's not that simple.


Bey knows. GIF from "Life Is but a Dream."

Certainly the world's two billion working poor might disagree.

Take a country like India for example. Social entrepreneur Akanksha Hazari says most workers there do "literally back-breaking work" but don't earn enough to meet their families' needs.

Photo by paradiz/Pixabay.

Hazari comes from humble beginnings in India, too. Her parents worked hard and succeeded at giving her a better life. But she recognizes their ascendance, while partially the result of hard work, was also a matter of luck.

Images via Vital Voices Global Partnership/YouTube.

"For me, it’s very important that I contribute to the world that creates equal access to opportunity," Hazari told TakePart. "Anyone who works hard, the system should be set up in a way that they can be successful and see the rewards of that hard work."

After graduating from college in the U.S., Hazari put her career where her values were and went into the humanitarian field, which eventually brought her back to her home country. However, the more she learned, the more she realized it wasn't her truest calling.

She began to wonder:

"How do we live in a world where you have mobile phones and you have Coca-Cola, but we can't deliver electricity and education?"

Hazari was baffled by sights of people in extreme poverty carrying cellphones and sodas but lacking fundamental services like clean water, electricity, education, and health care.

But in that contrast, she saw a big opportunity to leverage both commercial tactics and India's massive cellphone ownership for good.

Cellphones are a powerful way to connect businesses with customers and families with what they need.

Hazari launched m.Paani, a loyalty program like those you might use through your cell provider or credit card. Users collect points by using their phones and shopping with the program's partner vendors.


What sets m.Paani apart from other rewards programs is that points can be used to buy food, household goods, water filters, tuition support, and other items that make important differences in their lives.

According to Hazari:

"It was taking loyalty and applying it in a completely different way — to give value to consumers who are usually unseen and underserved — and creating for them a second wallet of points they can actually use to improve their quality of life, to achieve their aspirations."

An added benefit is that m.Paani is helping India's mom 'n' pop shops grow their businesses by using data and analytics — information most owners have never seen or considered.


"They live in what we call a 'data dark world,'" said Hazari. "Because there's no information about you, you don't get access to fundamental services like insurance or loans."

We don't have to reinvent the wheel to solve critical issues like poverty.

If there's anything we can learn from Hazari's story, it's that the tools of enterprise can be used for so much more than profit. They're already here. We can use them where it matters most.

Watch a profile of Akanksha Hazari and m.Paani:

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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