'Compassionate Capitalism' for the Developing World

Asia 21 Young Leader Asher Hasan recounts the original human tragedy that motivated him to start providing quality health insurance for Pakistan's underclass. (3 min., 22 sec.)

NEW YORK, May 19, 2010 – "Compassionate capitalism will be the way of the future" and is the only way that for-profit companies will be able to sustain themselves in developing markets, according to Asher Hasan, Founder and CEO of Naya Jeevan, a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to providing health insurance to disadvantaged families.

Hasan told an audience here at the Asia Society that Naya Jeevan's mission is to "alleviate poverty by providing affordable access to quality catastrophic health care" when catastrophic events render families either financially insolvent or heavily indebted. Working with private sector and multinational corporations in Pakistan and with academic and non-profit institutions, Naya Jeevan provides health insurance coverage for domestic employees of people working for large multinationals, low-income participants in the supply chains and distribution networks of these companies, and to low-income employees of corporations.

This model is also being followed in other South Asian contexts, notably in Bangladesh and India. Citing the example of the Seva Foundation in India, Hasan noted that private providers often face criticism for supposedly usurping the state's role as a provider of health services. As a counter to such claims, Naya Jeevan aspires to be a working model that will eventually provide state health care providers with a "facilitative ecosystem" from which they can learn. By ensuring the "three P's" in the model are considered—"planet, people, and profits"—the Naya Jeevan model is a sustainable way to provide health care.

Niki Armacost, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Arc Finance Limited, moderated a follow-up Q & A session that examined other potential relief models, ranging the gamut from "pure charities" to "extreme capitalism." Hasan asserted that neither extreme can work in the long run because neither is sustainable or scalable, and that a nuanced approach (i.e., one that incorporates sustainability from the beginning) is best when dealing with new ventures in emerging economies.

Asked to describe some of the biggest challenges his organization has faced to date, Hasan argued that the "entrenched post-colonial mind set" that prevailed in post-colonial countries literally "rigged the system against those at the bottom of the pyramid" and makes it difficult for have-nots to better their circumstances. Changes in the system, he stated unequivocally, need to come from privileged elites themselves. These changes in thinking lead to a more egalitarian society—something that is becoming increasingly important in a country like Pakistan, where pervasive inequalities, religious intolerance, and an unstable socio-economic environment are creating a volatile mixture of disenfranchised citizens.

Speaking about the need to make Pakistani youth more aware of the society around them, Hasan outlined a Naya Jeevan initiative that literally matches privileged children in private schools in Pakistan and in the US with their less privileged peers to increase their awareness of how low-income children actually live. He closed with a resounding call to the Pakistani diaspora to become more involved in improving the lives of Pakistan's marginalized populations.

Reported by Faiza Mawjee