Is social entrepreneurship the key to women’s challenges?

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SOCIAL entrepreneurship is one of those terms which is gaining popularity in various media and it has been stretched to include all manner of charitable activities.

What exactly is it and can it be the key to driving sustainable change in women’s lives?

Martin and Osberg in their document titled Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition go a long way in explaining the difference between a normal entrepreneur and a social one.

According to them, the best place to start is in defining entrepreneurship itself.

In simple terms, three elements have to be present for entrepreneurship; these are the identification of a commercial opportunity, the necessary personal qualities to exploit it and the creation of a venture to implement the opportunity.

In other words there has to be value creation.

One significant difference between social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship is their target markets.

In business, the target market can comfortably afford to buy the product or service and the entrepreneur is set to make a profit.

On the other hand the social entrepreneur’s market is usually underserved, neglected and a highly disadvantaged segment of the population.

To explain further, the authors outline the three elements for social enterprise which are: the identification of a situation where there is exclusion or marginalisation of a segment of the population, identification of an opportunity and a social proposition to address it and lastly the target group is transformed in some way and released from its challenges.

And social entrepreneurship can be for profit or non-profit.

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank is known as the father of micro-credit and he extended credit to the poor of the poorest in Bangladesh, who turned out to be creditworthy after all.

Another is Victoria Hale, a pharmaceutical scientist, who formed the first non-profit drug development company, One World Health.

This came after the realisation that big pharmaceutical companies were unwilling to develop drugs for the poor because they had a low purchasing power.

It is also important to look at what social entrepreneurship is not.

The authors give the example of a school for Aids-orphans which is a social service provision and not entrepreneurial.

It can only be called a social enterprise if it has the ability to be replicated so that it spawns large-scale change.

However, because of limited resources these types of ventures are often confined to a small geographical location.

Not that there is anything wrong with that they argue but it just shouldn’t be called social entrepreneurship.

Another group, that of social activists who lobby NGOs and policy makers to take action, without taking direct action themselves are also not social entrepreneurs as defined above.

All this has a direct bearing on finding different ways of tackling some of the challenges being highlighted during the 16 days of activism campaign.

Two of the elements of a social enterprise are present.

Firstly, there is definitely a marginalised and disadvantaged group, that of vulnerable women and children and secondly the majority of them are not in a position to pay for the product or service that could free them from their situation.

What is needed is the third element, a value proposition that can address the challenges on a scale that can be replicated or have a large scale impact on its own.

An example of such a proposition is Kailash Satyarthi’s Rug Mark campaign.

He was concerned about the many children enslaved in the rug-weaving industry in India and realised the futility of trying to rescue them directly.

He decided to target the affluent consumers in other countries and developed a certification programme and a public relations campaign.

Now buyers know that by buying a rug with the Rug Mark label they are assured that children have not been exploited in its production.

This is the challenge facing us in sub-Saharan Africa: we are just beginning to embrace entrepreneurship with all its attendant challenges.

The situation some women and girls are in calls for us to come up with models of social entrepreneurship that will in the long run develop a community that can appreciate the products and services which pure entrepreneurship has to offer.

afrikarizma@gmail.com.

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