Can social entrepreneurship help governments to tackle major public health issues in developing countries?


Can social entrepreneurship help governments to tackle major public health issues in developing countries?


Jorge Alejandro Garcia MD

Candidate MSc Health Policy, Planning and Financing 2018

London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


Universal coverage has been the main objective for health systems during the last 15 years. Countries have progressed at different levels with still many inequalities in Low and Middle Income settings. Nevertheless, health coverage does not mean effective access or responsiveness of the health system. In many nations, patients still experience high administrative burden to access to healthcare and high levels of out of pocket expenditure.

Governments struggle to provide health insurance and health services in the nations. In their focus to deal with such challenges, public health concerns such as infant health, access to medicines or proper sanitation may stagger. So, should societies wait until the public sector can catch up with the needs they have? Could they resist being left behind for several years?

A solution could be to empower civil society and the private sector to come up with solutions to public health challenges. In fact, the third sector, (Charities) have occupied that space, providing services and alternatives when governments are not present. From the establishment of community-based insurance schemes to the provision of primary healthcare, these organizations contribute to the health of vulnerable communities. The problem of charities is that they rely solely on donations. Then, if they are gone or decreased, their programs also do. What if they could have a self-sustainable model?

This is the basis of social entrepreneurship. The creation of companies that merge the best from the corporate sector and the third sector. This is, the ability to create a sustainable business model to generate income (corporate) and to pursue a social mission to improve their society (third sector). Hence, the main objective of a social business in not profit making for their owners but solving one pressing challenge of their community in a sustainable way. This new way of entrepreneurship could create a different new way of improving the health of people.

Social enterprises could play an important role in meeting public health demands of low-income settings. In fact, they have already been doing so. India, a country where most health expenditure is in the private sector, has had many bold examples. One of the biggest is the Aravind eyecare system ( . The largest eye-care provider of the world. Aravind managed to create a model where they can deliver quality eye care surgery to Indian population and at the same time cross-subsidize the poorest to provide them access to eye-care. One of their purposes has been to tackle the preventable blindness by cataract surgery.

In Latin America, where I come from, we have also interesting examples. Since 2012, we created BIVE (, a social business with the aim of facilitating access to healthcare services to low income communities. Through partnership with a network of more than 100 healthcare providers we promote early diagnosis and treatment of disease by connecting patients with private services that are affordable and quicker and faster than regular health system. We have served especially rural communities.

Coffee growers are part of the root community of the country but they lack of access to high-quality and responsive healthcare services in comparison to high income urban people. Through Bive, we are covering more than 15.000 coffee grower families in two states of Colombia and have been developing programs in visual care (Preventable blindness detection and treatment) and dental care (Dental rehabilitation through prosthesis) with the programs Vision cafeteria and Sonrisas cafeteras.

This is just an example of how private, social driven organizations could empower citizens, even young professionals to help governments and their communities to achieve better healthcare. What if the health systems formally opened a space for them to foster collaboration?

Wanna learn more? Learn from social entrepreneurship. Visit Ashoka, the largest organization supporting social entrepreneurs in the world (, discover   Muhammad Yunus, a world social business leader, or discover this network of healthcare innovators around the world: