Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 Finalists [Updated]

This week has had no shortage of announcements of accepting nominations for some competitions and the unveiling of winners from others. Today, IndiaPRwire reports that the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, Schwab Foundation, and UNDP has picked finalists for the 2008 Social Entrepreneurship of the Year Award.

The Award recognizes individuals who offer the most innovative and sustainable solutions to society’s impending social problems. The ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ Award over the last few years has risen to prominence among social entrepreneurs with applicant’s immensely valuing the benefits the award brings. The steady increase in the number of nominations filed for this award is proof of it growing significance

Here are the three finalists:

Singing along one’s way to literacy

One poem that always inspires me is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Its starting lines came to my mind when I learned about Brij Kothari and his brainchild PlanetRead:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too…

Brij’s project employs a technique called “Same Language Subtitling,” by which “lyrics are added as subtitles to film songs on TV programs,” thus providing the illiterate viewer with an opportunity to learn how to read. Brij hit upon the idea of using SLS with televised Bollywood songs based on the intuition that if illiterate viewers were exposed to both visual and textual cues while singing, they would naturally develop reading skills. In fact, according to “eye-tracking research” conducted by the SLS group, “viewers naturally synchronize the auditory and textual information while watching a film song with SLS.” Moreover, “when SLS is integrated into popular TV entertainment, reading happens automatically and subconsciously.”

Following research and trials, Brij’s challenge lay in getting the idea adopted by the government and mainstream media. Easier said than done, unfortunately – due to the supposed frivolity of the idea, Brij faced opposition from academics, government institutions and television gurus. Convinced that his idea was compelling, however, Brij did not lose hope and kept on trying. As a result of his perseverance, PlanetRead is now funded by, and has 10 nationally televised programs on air, covered in most parts of India. Brij has also started another venture – BookBox – again based on SLS.

The lesson? PlanetRead is not an earth-shattering concept, neither is it revolutionary. The idea is a straightforward one, but the social entrepreneur behind the idea, Brij Kothari, is unconventional in his approach. Despite opposition, skepticism, and impending failure, Brij continues to pursue his idea with firm conviction and belief in the potential for a different future.

Want to learn more? Listen to Brij Kothari’s interview by Sheela Sethuraman at Social Conversations.