'Startup' is currently the most common term used by newly-founded technological firms with such high potential for growth. They have claimed to emerge as a way to solve pain points for people in society - and that is also the role technology is supposed to play.
There are also other kinds of startups which aim to help the minority with less profit focus, known as social enterprise or social entrepreneurship (SE); with their aim being to improve the quality of life of people in rural areas or people working in the agricultural sector. However, after we had a chance to explore a few not-so-urban communities in Bangkok and its nearby areas recently, a question popped up in our mind; are the startups and SE just luxury goods for grassroots?
Will people with a hand-to-mouth lifestyle really be able to gain the benefits of a startup ecosystem?
However, let us clarify a little bit more about the types of goods which we are talking about. In terms of Economics, there are many types of goods, for example, inferior goods (goods that people consume less when their income increase), normal goods (goods that people consume more when they have higher income), etc. The word ‘luxury goods’ which we are talking about is also in the sense of Economics, not the really high-end, popular brand names, which means goods that people spend more proportion of their income to buy it than the proportion of the income.
Now, let’s get back to our answers.
Many startups and SEs act as a platform to bring together sellers and buyers, service providers and service customers. A number of the sellers and service providers are at the grassroots, which means that startups and SE’s existence are providing more or new income sources to this specific group of people. On top of that, some of them also put their efforts into educating grassroots with more technology utilization for more productivity. Simultaneously, some startups may target some organizations or some governments to be their customers in B2B business schemes in the hope that these products or services that they sell will be accessible to society as subsidized welfare.
These kinds of products and services can improve the quality of life for people in the countryside and sometimes, they can even save those people’s livelihoods. For example, the online marketplace for farmers and consumers to directly meet each other at a lower cost than traditional agents, or as a platform for local people to sell their tours or provide accommodation booking directly to travelers, or as a donation platform for charities.
If we think on the other end of the spectrum, it can possibly be less advantageous to the lower income group. It seems that only certain amounts of income increased while other well-beings may not really be more affordable or reachable. Someone may argue that more earnings should raise their purchasing power already.
For instance, many SEs promote that organic rice or other organic edible things are healthier with more nutrient value than general products, but the organic rice costs four times more than general rice. Will the increased revenue of grassroots be able to raise their purchasing power in the same proportion? Is this another kind of exclusion for the ‘left-behind’ people, excluding the group of farmers, access to good nutrition? Furthermore, how many low-income people can really utilize the startups’ technology to solve their common pain points on a daily basis as the targeted segments of the business when they are unable to monetarily afford it? Are they only be able to make a living out of it, not a substantial profit?
Nevertheless, no one can deny that startups and SE are making our world better with technology overall. Many people’s lives are getting better with better life quality, more convenience, and more contentment.
Also, business is running more on the monetary incentive basis. Without this motive, the world may be less innovative than it is nowadays.
The challenge of people in the next generation may be how to balance the world of technological advancements and capitalism vibes out into the world for the greater good of humanity.