Social entrepreneurship as a key to development

Social entrepreneurship as a key to development

Last week, on October 4th, Basotho, and dignitaries from near and far away countries that came with well-wishes for Basotho, gathered around Setsoto Stadium in large numbers as the Kingdom of Lesotho celebrated its golden jubilee of its independence.
As speeches echoed significant progress the country has made thus far, the Independence Day celebrations served as a reminder of the long journey the country has traversed since its independence from British rule in 1966.
Of course, like any other country journeying from colonial rule to independence, there are bound to be immense developmental challenges faced by the country.
Challenges like unemployment, high levels of poverty, inequality, lack of access to education, health care and clean water, as well as other socio-economic challenges remain common amongst countries with a similar colonial past.
Could social entrepreneurship be key to alleviating some of these developmental challenges?
As the country celebrates its 50th independence and looks at finding ways to tackle these challenges, perhaps this is an opportune time to consider (or even re-consider) the impact of social entrepreneurship in creating jobs, alleviating poverty, growing the economy, and ultimately changing people’s lives.
Social entrepreneurship is, in a way, a survival tactic for the poor.
By definition, social entrepreneurship endeavours to systemically solve social problems using ways that are inclusive, innovative, sustainable, and scalable.
In addressing some of the stated challenges, many countries are embracing entrepreneurial values to mobilize people, resources and innovative practices in ways that will result in greater impact.
By virtue of it targeting social problems to solve, and its pursuit of social change, social entrepreneurship pushes up the priority list for any nation pursuing a developmental agenda.
Social enterprises, in particular, are permeating the mainstream consciousness and increasingly gaining recognition as catalysts of social and economic change in under-developed and developing countries.
Though social entrepreneurship means different things to different people, there is at least some agreement that social enterprises are organisations that have an economic, social, cultural or environmental mission aligned to public or community benefit; they trade to fulfil their mission; they derive a substantial portion of their income from trade, and re-invest the majority of their profit or surplus back into the organisation in the fulfilment of their mission.
The notion of social entrepreneurship does not provide a magic solution but rather addresses some of the constraints faced by charity-based models that tend to trap the poor in a vicious cycle of dependency.
Such models are employed by traditional non-governmental organisations or development agencies. It introduces slightly different business models and opens up different avenues of funding.
It also brings a motive of profit to the course being pursued.
Due to of its unique ability to mix social and economic objectives, it is better suited to respond to the multi-dimensional nature of social issues.
It also creates potential for empowering people to be productive and to take charge of their own destinies.

Who is a social entrepreneur?
Although there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what exactly defines a social entrepreneur, it broadly means an entrepreneur with deep social consciousness-oriented approach to business; one who applies business techniques or strategies to solve social or environmental problems in a manner that is financially sustainable.
Social entrepreneurs are inherently agents of change in their communities, and are driven by the mission to pursue new possibilities and opportunities for their surrounding.
It goes without saying, therefore, that social enterprises are often started by people whose passion it is to make a difference.
It tends to be less about the business and more about the impact the business will have in addressing social or environmental issues that captures their imagination.
In other words, as much as they make profits, social entrepreneurs measure positive returns to society.
Social entrepreneurship and the effect of self-transcendence
At the peak of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in his revised expanded model, is self-transcendence — the motivational step beyond self-actualization.
Self- transcendence is a desire that drives social entrepreneurs to experience and serve that which is beyond the individual self.
Scholar Prof Saatci of Okan University’s Department of Management Social Entrepreneurship Research Centre, and others, conducted a comparative study on both social and commercial entrepreneurs, and found that social entrepreneurs tend to have higher scores on self-transcendence dimension compared to the commercial entrepreneurs.
It can thus be posited that self-transcendence could better unleash the potential of social entrepreneurs and facilitate their exposure to complex social problems.
Those who experience it are likely to be more alert to opportunities for social business innovation and to generate impact in tackling social problems.
The effect of the value of self-transcendence on opportunity recognition is pro-social and needs to be cultivated for socio-economic progress.

So why is it important to cultivate social entrepreneurship?
Social enterprises create an opportunity to address many complex societal problems, and like many other countries, Lesotho is in need of platforms for innovative and impactful solutions to some of the most pressing social issues.
Although these problems may be daunting for any society, there should be a deliberate embrace and support of social entrepreneurs tackling these issues head on.
In the eyes of social entrepreneurs are challenges instead of problems, and through challenges these entrepreneurs see opportunities to drive positive impact in their communities and to generate financial returns while doing so.
Cultivating social entrepreneurship is, in essence, creating self-reliance, self-sustainability and large-scale impact.
It is to offer opportunities to individuals or groups to use their ability and resourcefulness to create socio-economic value on a sustainable basis.
To illustrate this value, one may invoke the social wisdom “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.
Social entrepreneurship takes this further by building infrastructure to lay foundations and transform industries so that more people can benefit at a large scale in a sustainable manner.
Perhaps there should be recognition that social entrepreneurship is not a linear, uniform process.
There are multiple contexts, challenges and conditions in which it occurs. Equally, social entrepreneurs have unique needs and goals to pursue. The challenge, therefore, is for social partners to create an enabling environment and deliberately invest in the development of sustainable social enterprises that would contribute in realization of development objectives of the country.
There are different ways other countries are employing to cultivate social entrepreneurship. These range from providing access to an array of high-quality resources to help them achieve their objectives — both from the point of view of financial performance and positive social impact; to making available appropriate market incentives; research and development; training; and enterprise incubation where an entrepreneur is assisted in the form of developing a business model for the enterprise or preparing and linking them up with impact investors or other sources of financing.
Lesotho’s challenges are not necessarily unique to it. Development challenges are inherently too complex and require catalystic approaches that are multi-dimentional in nature.
Social entrepreneurship offers one approach, but needs multi-stakeholder collaborations and support spanning different sectors and communities for it to thrive and generate lasting impact.
l Fundisile Serame holds masters in Business Information Systems from Tshwane University of Technology. She is a Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) alumnus. She has extensive training in the IT sector both in the private and public sectors.

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