Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Thursday, 19 January 2006

Business skills solving social ills

By Guy Robarts
BBC News business reporter

Kailash Satyarthi
Somebody has to accept the challenge whatever dangers are there
Kailash Satyarthi

Kailash Satyarthi has saved tens of thousands of lives by staging dangerous and daring dawn raids on Indian factories where children are brutally enslaved.

His mission is to "wipe away the blot of human slavery".

In Kenya, Martin Fisher and Nick Moon have helped impoverished families by doubling the yield of local farmers through a low-cost, manual water pump.

Meanwhile, a new bank is loaning billions of pounds to the poor thanks to entrepreneurial efforts in Bangladesh.

And one enterprising woman has founded the Delancey Street foundation in San Francisco to help drug addicts, criminals and the homeless win back their self-respect and lead productive lives.

I want to see in my lifetime that there is no child slavery in the world
Kailash Satyarthi

A new breed of compassionate capitalists are beginning to stamp their mark on the world as 'change-agents' for society.

Their stories and others are about to be told in a new TV programme fronted by Hollywood movie icon Robert Redford, recording the birth of the "new heroes of our time", the "social entrepreneurs".

Modern day slavery

Bonded labour is a form of modern day slavery whereby a poor family borrows a petty sum from a businessman or landlord but is forced to hand over one of their children as security.

Children in Zambia
Education enables children to have dreams and realise them

But they are too impoverished to pay back the loan.

The son or daughter becomes a slave and if they try to escape they are beaten, tortured and even killed.

Forced to work 18 hours days, often without breaks, their spirit is crushed from an early age.

Mr Satyarthi left a promising career as an electrical engineer to mount rescue raids on factories - often manned by armed guards - where children and families were held captive.

Culprit companies include carpet makers, diamond miners, and even firms that make footballs.

Mr Satyarthi created the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) in 1989, which has liberated and rehabilitated nearly 40,000 bonded labourers, educating them in basic skills to lead and free and independent life.

Former slaves have even become liberators themselves, taking part in dawn raids to free others.

Death threats

But all this has come at a personal price to Mr Satyarthi.

He has endured death threats and attempts at incarceration and has lost two of his colleagues who were murdered on the job.

Robert Redford
Robert Redford will present the UK premiere of The New Heroes

Undeterred, Mr Satyarthi has begun a programme called "Bal Mitra Gram" to encourage Indian villages to abolish child labour as well as supporting "Rugmark" - where carpets are labelled and certified to be child-labour-free from the factories that make them.

By showing buyers the human costs involved in some Indian industries, he hopes to tweak the conscience of western consumers.

In the meantime, the business of liberating child slaves is something he will never turn his back on.

"I would never give up the work," he tells the BBC.

"Somebody has to accept the challenge whatever dangers are there.

"I want to see in my lifetime that there is no child slavery in the world."

Growth opportunities

Over in east Africa, Mr Fisher and Mr Moon are helping Kenyan farmers transform their lives by developing and marketing new technologies aimed at boosting crop yields and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Farmers in Kenya
The 'Moneymaker' foot-operated pump helps farmers boost yields

The pair founded Approtec (Appropriate Technologies for Enterprise Creation), to provide farmers with the tools to make their work profitable.

The company was founded out of the belief that poor people do not need handouts, they simply need the opportunities and tools to make the most of their skills and entrepreneurial spirit.

Despite being not-for-profit, the company says it takes a business-like approach to helping others.

"We don't think of them as poor farmers desperate for sympathy and charitable handouts," co-founder Nick Moon tells the BBC.

"We don't like the bleeding heart charity approach. We see them as a massive reservoir of unmobilised capital waiting to be invested in."

Business based

Enter the 'Moneymaker' irrigation pump - a small, foot-operated pump tailor-made to the requirements of Kenyan farmers.

Soil that once took a whole day to irrigate, now takes one hour.

The popular pump has now been used by over 32,000 east African farmers.

All they are looking for is a practical opportunity to make better use of what they already have
Nick Moon, Approtec

Mr Moon says that on average a small-scale farmer's income goes up 10 times when using its technology.

For every $1000 Approtec invests in marketing, it creates five new businesses that go on to make more than $20,000 in profit over the next three years, the company says.

Private sector manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the supply chain all make their respective profits from the operation.

In short, everybody is happy.

"We are creating that wealth at the bottom of the pyramid but through market based approaches," says Mr Moon.

"All they are looking for is a practical opportunity to make better use of what they already have."

'The New Heroes', the Community Channel on Thursdays at 20:00 GMT from 19 January, 2006, with repeats on Fridays at 22:00 GMT and Sundays at 21:00 GMT.

Have we made poverty history?
16 Sep 05 |  Business
Life as a modern slave in Pakistan
25 Nov 04 |  South Asia

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific