At the core of social entrepreneurship are the twin concepts of empathy and enterprise. With this simple formula, social enterprises are transforming business mentalities and the world we live in.
The heart behind a social enterprise is empathy. Enterprises generate a positive difference in the world through the development of products, services and ideas that target social issues: poverty, inequality, better education and health, sustainable energies and rehabilitation to name but a few. In Nigeria, Ajima Farms initiated a Waste-to-Watt project in 2015, deploying biogas renewable technology to provide affordable electricity for off-grid communities in the region and to power productive activities such as schools, health centres and farm clusters. Business models like Ajima Farms are distinctive because the values and the consequences are people focused.
The driving force of social entrepreneurship projects is enterprise. This involves coming up with imaginative, innovative solutions to social issues and translating that into effective business models. Profit is key in order to create sustainable business growth and expand capacities so that more people can benefit from the products and services they provide. Profit-driven business growth also enables local people to have access to jobs, which boosts the local economy and enhances quality of life for the individuals concerned. For a social enterprise, profit is neither the big-bad-wolf or the holy grail. It is a tool to achieve change, a driver of efficiency to be more accountable with money and a useful instrument to spur businesses on to reach more people.
How does this make a difference?
Firstly, social enterprises transform economic development of local areas. Employment creation leads to greater prosperity in struggling communities and provides people with a sense of purpose and achievement. Many social entrepreneurs provide job opportunities to segments of society at a disadvantage such as those with disabilities, the gender-discriminated, at-risk youth, prisoners and the homeless.
Secondly, the innovation of new goods and services transform peoples’ lives. One example is Patients Engage in Singapore which is an online community building platform supporting patients and family caregivers in the management of chronic conditions and those who have mental health issues. By empowering patients and caregivers to take charge of their own lives holistically, this social enterprise transforms the experiences of those suffering from acute health problems.
Thirdly, social enterprises promote equity through addressing social issues and challenging discrimination in the job market. According to the 2015 State of Social Enterprises’ Report, 40% of social enterprises are led by women, 31% have Black Asian Minority Ethnic directors and 40% have a director with a disability in the UK. This demonstrates that social enterprises are at the forefront of pioneering inclusive and diverse leadership. Their products and services can also promote empowerment of vulnerable groups. For example, Gravilog in the Palestinian Territories has created a free healthcare app for women to help them track and monitor their heath during pregnancy because the business believes that all pregnant women should have the right to own and control their EMR for free.
How does BfE promote social entrepreneurship?
Bridges for Enterprise (BfE) empowers social entrepreneurs across Africa, Asia and the Middle East to achieve their ambitions. Through the BfE Programme, social enterprises access a range of pro-bono consulting, financial and legal advisory services to help them expand their capacities and prepare for investors. Since being founded in 2015, we have supported over thirty social enterprise startups in eighteen countries worldwide. Students at universities develop their corporate skills and gain experience on real projects while entrepreneurs in emerging markets are empowered to realise their vision for change. By bridging the gap with BfE, students and social entrepreneurs make a tangible difference in the world.