Social entrepreneurs combine commerce and social issues in a way that makes the lives of people better
Social entrepreneurship is an emerging concept being adopted worldwide with the aim to make the world a better place. Its definition is not absolute and can be slightly adjusted according to the nature of the initiatives taken, their sustainability and the beneficiaries involved.
Putting it simply, social entrepreneurs combine commerce and social issues in a way that improves the lives of people connected to the issue. They do not measure their success in terms of profit alone but also how they have brought improvement in the lives of people. The areas where social entrepreneurs can or do operate are diverse. Some of these areas include health, hygiene and nutrition, education, microfinance, low-cost housing, creation of livelihood opportunities especially for women, premium pricing for products manufactured by disadvantaged or underprivileged people.
Though social enterprises are not necessarily dependent on technology, it has helped them develop at a faster pace, with ease and at a much lower cost than for those developed using conventional models. The internet has connected people who had been isolated from one another for long. A perfect example is that of home-based workers and marginalised communities that have been connected to the world through e-commerce platforms in a way that eliminates intermediaries. Such measures have helped them become empowered in making decisions about their products and businesses.
Most social enterprises work in spaces created due to the inactivity or inability of governments. But this does not absolve the governments of their responsibilities towards its citizens.
Ammara Farooq Malik, author of the book Building Bridges Through Social Enterprises: Opinions and Anecdotes on Development, Law and Economics of Social Enterprises in Pakistan, is a known social entrepreneur. She says one of the most important questions for a social entrepreneur stems from ‘why’ a person responds and behaves the way he does. In Pakistan, she says, terrorism, peace-building and a struggling economy went hand in hand throughout the early 2000s. This, she says, has created opportunities for the social worker, the entrepreneur and the peace-builder to create ideas that might sustain economically and generate a social impact.
Organisations and businesses such as SEPLAA Foundation, Seplaa Hub, Akhuwat, Sewegap Women Hub, Seplaa Young Leaders’ Club, Gharpar and Peace Niche have played a vital role in creating sustainable social impact in areas as diverse as women empowerment, climate change resilience, micro finance, social enterprise incubation and peace-building.
Malik cites the example of Seplaa Young Leaders’ Club International. For every student that pays for a workshop at the club, two to five underprivileged children participate in the same workshop or activity for free. The activities are based on critical thinking, art, climate change awareness and resilience measures.
The Centre for Social Entrepreneurship working under the Planning Commission claims to have the mandate to support students and young entrepreneurs to find innovative business ideas to solve pressing problems related to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The overall task of the centre as mentioned on its website is to improve the living standards of people in disadvantaged communities through innovation.
Ethical buying is one such domain where the centre has sought applications for social entrepreneurs so that they can be provided with the required support. According to the centre, “Ethical fashion has gained significance in the global value chains. Many fashion brands are based on the premise that they need to promote indigenous products in the value chains through fair trade practices. This ensures that the labourers get a fair wage, and are treated in a fair manner. There is a big movement towards fair trade practices the world over, and ethical sourcing. Pakistani products do not get the market that they should. Local artisans work needs to be showcased.”
Development of mobile wallets is another area on which the centre is focusing. Adoption of this platform can enable a shift towards providing nano- or micro-loans through mobile technology at the click of a button to those outside of the formal banking sector with no credit scores at the touch of a button. These online platforms can also be used for insurance products to safeguard the poor against catastrophic shocks.
Munzir Elahi, communications head at Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), says that innovation and a positive approach can bring about social and behavioural change without incurring additional costs. Citing an example, he says, the houses destroyed and washed away in south Punjab were rebuilt with the PPAF’s support but their titles (ownership) were transferred to women. The rationale was that women were better managers and would not sell off the houses easily. This innovative approach empowered the women apart from meeting the housing needs of the residents, he adds.
The writer is a staff member and can be reached at [email protected]