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It’s always great to hear stories about innovation and social enterprise. We tweeted one such story a couple of weeks ago.

In Canada, we often take our emergency response support for granted – dialing 911 and expecting an ambulance to show up is almost a human right. However, in countries like India this resource is often unavailable. In fact, with 90% of individuals who are being transported in ambulances dying due to slow response times and a lack of financial aid, ambulances are often perceived as a hearse. In an attempt to change this perception, Ziquitza Health Care Limited is a bold social venture that offers residents a method of reaching medical care whether they can pay for it or not.

Initially, the business started as a privately-run fleet of ambulances called “1298”. The young entrepreneurs that launched the business tried to attain the dialing code “9-9-9” but government officials demanded bribes to provide them this number. The joke goes that 1298 was the bribe amount initially requested.

So how does this enterprise work?

ZHL’s payment structure is a sliding scale fee system; patients who want to go to a private hospital in a full-service ambulance pay a higher rate than those who choose to go to a public hospital, paying either half price or nothing at all. This allows ZHL to service both the poor and wealthy communities that make up the greater Mumbai area.

By using simple GPS technology, the service is able to address the issue of slow response times. More recently, these entrepreneurs have begun to provide free mobile health assessments and are considering the feasibility of solar-operated ambulances.

The scale of this project is huge.

When ZHL’s concept was in its infancy, Mumbai had approximately 12 working ambulances with intensive care equipment. Today the company alone has more than 300 ambulances, made possible through a total of over $2.2 million dollars in equity.

Acumen Fund, a non-profit venture fund with a focus on investing philanthropic capital in social enterprises, is the sole reason this venture has become feasible. This is a great example of how effective social enterprises can be in bridging gaps that charity and the markets have not been able to fill in the world’s poorer regions. By embracing this unique combination of enterprise and philanthropy to create sustainable change, 1298 is enabling more successful medical treatments in Mumbai, India.

On a sidenote, 1298 was recently highlighted at a seminar called Acumen 101, held at Toronto’s Center for Social Innovation and an interesting discussion came from this:

The seminar ended with a question: “How do we apply similar concepts of patient capital to a domestic context?” Although Canada’s low-income earners are a far cry from the poverty in India, a strong case can be made here to streamline public spending and to put our charitable dollars towards sustainable endeavors. The answer to Canada’s own cycle of poverty may just be in an ambulance half a world away.

Based on this example, and countless other successful examples of social enterprise addressing a disparity in the market, this idea of reinvesting charitable dollars into sustainable social ventures truly does seem like the answer.

To read the full article, view it here: http://www.corporateknights.com/blog/guest-post-ambulance-ride-social-enterprise.