Social Entrepreneurship: A New Approach to Development
Often as I inform people that I work with social entrepreneurs to increase the scale of their impact, I get questions on what social entrepreneurship is. The term, 'entrepreneur' generally brings to mind people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. While these are the stand-out examples, entrepreneurs can simply be defined as individuals who wade through significant financial risk in order to set up a business of their own, generally in the hope of accumulating profits. In this context, it seems entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ventures are essentially commercial, which can to some degree explain concerns about the association of the word ‘social’ with entrepreneurship. However, at a more visceral level, most entrepreneurs are also driven by an almost indomitable passion to solve complex challenges, bridge gaps and redefine thinking.
The social and development sectors are rife with complex challenges and gaps to bridge, particularly in developing economies. Conventional models are slow to address, or in some cases, have not been able to address some of these problems with the desired efficacy, so there is plenty of scope to redefine thinking as well. It is not difficult to see how the entrepreneurial mind, would view this sector as a massive playground of abounding opportunity. Hence, ‘social entrepreneurship’ arises.
Social problems have existed for millennia, as have people driven to ease them. For the longest time though, solving social problems was seen as the domain of the public sector or charitable organizations, while business and commerce was seen as a different ball-game. The proliferation of social entrepreneurs in the last few years has challenged this. This lot of entrepreneurs exhibit the same characteristics as the ‘commercial entrepreneurs’ such as drive, fortitude, creativity and innovation among others. This lot identifies persistent social problems or challenges, be it due to market or state failure, and apply their entrepreneurial intent to innovate new business models, delivery mechanisms or distribution processes to address such issues. Social Entrepreneurs, whether motivated by profit or not, are more centrally motivated to question existing wisdom, use new business approaches in a bid to address challenges in the social space, that affect individual lives.
There are plenty of examples of successful social entrepreneurs such as Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, or closer to home, Harish Hande of SELCO. Many more are solving challenges every day. Therefore, it is no doubt that Social Entrepreneurs are key players in the development space and promoting & empowering these enterprises could provide a large push to scalable solutions to several vexing social and development issues.