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.
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.
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.
"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: