Imagine you waking up one day with an idea of directing your business skills towards uplifting the profile of a social issue by deploying capital, skills and management. While mitigating the social issues, you reap profit as a bottom line; obviously, you are a social entrepreneur. Social entrepreneurs may establish their startups to achieve their emancipating objective or restructure their existing business to fit this profile.
In the west and other advanced economies, more and more companies are being driven to direct their capital towards social issues by their shareholders. The remarkable result of this new 21st century phenomenon has contributed more to changes in the economic empowerment of the poor. Take for example the manual windup mobile phone charger; a simple cheap device making use of basic long existing technology, but has become indispensable in the expansion of mobile phone coverage to the most remote places in the world were access to electricity is non existent or intermittent at best.
For most people, the success of micro-finance banks and the makeover effect on the face of commerce in the communities were they operate should draw in a great deal of debate on whether the scaling down of non-emergency aid for social investments may be the best way to draw out a society from it’s circle of poverty.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) were the face of development aid in the last century. They channeled private and public donations towards emergency relief, stabilization of communities recovering from crisis situations and also providing technical support and finance towards developmental projects. Now how much developmental projects must NGOs engage in without depleting the influence of the state or undermining the capacity of the locals from being independent resource wise anytime soon? This has been a recurring question and subject of debate.
Across the world, there are more and more startups with the capacity to invent new products and services that are revolutionary to the needs of the poor and at the same time commercially viable to a business. The missing link is, how do we direct this idea or invention to those who need them most? For the established big firms or multinationals, this wont be a big problem. With their established names and marketing/distribution infrastructure, they can penetrate the market. Who comes to the aid of the small social entrepreneur?
States in developing coherent policies on poverty alleviation should recognize the role that can be played by social entrepreneurs and as such have a mechanism in place to identify innovations that work inline with projects on ground. Take for example, the one computer per child idea. There was a product (a hand windup rechargeable laptop costing $100 each), but needed a market to make it viable, for that market to be activated, countries like Nigeria did then ordered about a million of such computers at a time. This volume would have helped reduced cost of production per system and guaranteed a continuous flow-out to more beneficiaries. The pilot project showed that children who had these computers had a remarkable change of attitude to learning, an interest in the sciences and technology was aroused and the computers became an indispensable aid to teaching in various subjects.
Profit is a motivating propellant that can bring on board the long term commitment of the best hands to actualize an objective, it speeds up growth and orientates the mind towards attaining results, if social issues are addressed as a consequence, then this may not be a bad strategy to throw more support behind. So state development planners can create the patronage and enabling environment to motivate the growth of this new industry.