A Week of Unreasonable Propositions. #1: The Rickshaw Bank

Okay, this is something that I am totally psyched about! In May, the Unreasonable Institute http://unreasonableinstitute.org in Boulder, Colorado is bringing 25 dynamic young entrepreneurs from around the world to an intensive 10-week business incubator. The stipulations are intense: The business must address a social or environmental issue. It must be financially self-sustaining in 1 year. It must be scalable and exportable to other countries in 3 years. And it must ultimately meet the needs of 1 million people.

284 entrepreneurs applied. 34 are finalists, and the first 25 to raise $6500 to cover their expenses will be going to Boulder to get incredible support in taking their high-impact social ventures global.

For 7 days, I’m going to vote (with my $100/day) for my favorites http://unreasonableinstitute.org/finalists/ and I’m urging you to get in on the action. The ideas are incredible. One guy is developing clean energy on American Indian reservations. One is financing affordable housing in his home country of Peru. One young woman is insulating corrugated galvanized iron homes in the slums of her native Pakistan. And one former child soldier in Liberia is creating a sustainable mental health enterprise for his peers. But today, I’m all about the Rickshaw Bank!

Dr. Pradip Kumar Sarmah is the founder of the Rickshaw Bank and at 46, he is the oldest (and most experienced, and probably the coolest) entrepreneur of the lot. A veterinarian and Ashoka Fellow, Pradip has been working for 7 years to improve the lives of 8 million rickshaw drivers in India, under the aegis of his Centre for Rural Development. Rickshaw drivers are the poorest of employed city dwellers, making less than $2/day carrying loads of 200 kilos in broiling heat, with no way out of poverty since they don’t own the rickshaws but rent them at usurious rates.

Pradip’s inspired idea was to create the Dip-Bahan, a faster, lighter rickshaw and then, under a microfinance model, allow pullers to buy the rickshaw and repay the loan in 18 months, on a daily basis. When banks refused to finance production of the new Dip-Bahans, Pradip went to businesses and cleverly got them to invest by giving them deeply discounted ad rates on the backs of the rickshaws. Once the puller owns his rickshaw, he can double his income and begin to pull himself and his family out of poverty. Pradip also finances uniforms, shoes, licenses, health and accident insurance, and photo ID cards under the same microfinance model, to bring respect, safety and camraderie to the profession.

In short, Pradip is brilliant, compassionate, inventive and passionately committed to this cause that could change the lives of millions. What he isn’t is anywhere close to reaching the $6500 goal to attend the institute. In fact, he’s only been able to raise $555. BUT … if everybody reading this gave a little – maybe $5 … he’d be in. Come on, people! It’s FUN to change the world! http://unreasonableinstitute.org/finalists/index.php?action=about_pro&proId=182

5 thoughts on “A Week of Unreasonable Propositions. #1: The Rickshaw Bank

  1. I’m looking forward to the next 7 days. I’m watching Celebrity Apprentice while I’m reading this. I love stuff like this! Today’s blog even reminds me of the very first Apprentice season. The contestants did a project similar to this.

  2. Loving obama’s passion but I’m doubtful this initiative will help the economy at all during this next year. I know i’m pessimistic, but I think there is a lot more bad to come before we see the economy recover.

  3. Betty,

    This is amazing that you are doing this and I cannot think of a better person to start with than Dr. Pradip Kumar Sarmah! I cannot wait to see which others you will be supporting in the coming days.

    My best to you,


  4. This is brilliant! I particularly love the fact that Pradip worked around the banks’ refusal to finance the rickshaws – this is one guy who refuses to give up. Brilliant, determined, compassionate and bloody-minded – an unbeatable combination. I’m going to give hims some money even though I am totally broke. Thanks for this Betty – it made my day.

    • Sarah– I totally agree! Isn’t that SO inventive and clever?? Dr. Pradip actually got funding from all the businesses, by giving them a 3-year contract to run ads at an 86% discount — but the good news is, after 18 months the driver owns the rickshaw … AND after the 3 years of discounts, he also gets all the revenue from the advertising — brilliant!

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