Lauren Miller - Grassroots Business Fund
The beneficiary reach of SKEPL is so efficient and the scale so staggering we found ourselves double and triple-checking our assumptions this week as we calculated the social return on investment. The fact is, with 3 million farmers, 100,000 cooperatives and a 1:350 ratio of milk collection machine to farmer, the SROI can’t be anything but astronomical. For every system installed, SKEPL saves farmers an hour per day in wait time, sells 8000 liters in sample milk that can be sold rather than thrown away and increases the annual bonus per farmer by up to 5%. Though our calculation factored in the increased bonus and sample milk savings, it did not quantify the time saved or the indirect impact on the farmers’ families. If you consider that the system saves 400,000 farmer hours per day and touches the lives of over 1.6M people, the $28 SROI is probably conservative.
As we attempt to digest this mind-boggling impact and potential for scale, we tend to focus on SKEPL and dairy farmers, skipping over the crucial intermediary. I believe the unsung heroes in this story are those running the dairy collection societies day to day, managing the books, purchasing SKEPL products and maintaining the machines, sometimes traveling hundreds of kilometers to do so, opening their doors every day from 6-8 in the morning and again from 6-8 in the evenings, always staying open until the last farmer has poured his or her milk.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a number of society secretaries and chairmen over the last month. Though the details of the stories always vary - some are farmers, some scholars, some straight up businessmen - the same core theme threads through them all: innovation, commitment and a deep-seated satisfaction in their contribution to their communities.
Take Govindbhai Charan, for example. When the dairy collection society in his village had gone bankrupt and was facing imminent closure, Govindbhai, a young corn and rice farmer and the most educated person in the village, felt obligated to intervene. With the support of a few friends, Govindbhai called a village meeting and promised to turn the cooperative around. Under Govindbhai’s management over the past fourteen years the Vavdi Khurd cooperative has grown from 30 members to 500; 40 liters per day to 2500 per day; a staff of seven full time employees from two, many of whom offered to work for free given the chance to learn from Govindbhai; one small ramshackle building to two new offices including a separate meeting hall, storage for feed and supplies, and solar panels that power the collection equipment. The society gives milk vessels to farmers on Diwali, pays for books for students at the local school and recently funded a village water tank. A cooperative on the brink of dissolution in 1996 is now the best cooperative in the district and an exemplary community partner. When asked about his favorite aspect of work, Govindbhai responded, “supporting the local school and ensuring that the students have books.” Evidently, the farmer cum entrepreneur and community leader remains a scholar at heart.
Govindbhai and several other impact-makers, as I’m calling them, are featured in this short slide show.