Social entrepreneurship is a field that is accessible to all, irrespective of education, social standing, race or background. It is a buzz word lately, and it is simpler than we might think. Imagine facing a problem every day – one that is shared by your community, and is so blatantly obvious or even so entrenched in the daily routine that we no longer pay it any heed. A simple solution one day comes to mind that would solve this problem: outrageous, different or so straightforward that you do not believe it has merit or that someone else hasn’t already thought of it.
Sounds familiar? Well, this is the pretext for any social entrepreneur’s golden idea. The mind-shift that needs to be made for aspiring social entrepreneurs is to see familiar problems in a fresh way, and to find the earning potential in that problem. The key to social entrepreneurship is to spot opportunities in the negative, and the solution must impact positively on certain social, environmental or cultural areas such as education, healthcare, poverty alleviation or community development.
Traits that set social entrepreneurs apart from traditional entrepreneurs is their ability to place purpose above, or on the same level as, profit. The impact of their idea or business model extends beyond the bottom line, incorporating the wider community and environment and has a longer-lasting effect compared to traditional business models. They often challenge conventional thinking of measuring business performance on financial results only, while at the same time these impact assessments are often difficult to measure or report on, if done at all.
According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, South Africa ranks 119th in the world in areas such as life expectancy, education and income per capita. Unemployment rose to 27% in 2017, with youth unemployment figures almost double that. This means that 3 out of 10 people, and 1 in 2 of our youth, are unemployed. With 60% of South Africa’s population under the age of 35, this means that we are facing a growing crisis with regards to our future.
Social entrepreneurship aims to not only address unemployment in our young population, but the spill over effect of its impact further raises the standard of living in the wider community and to the benefit of the broader environment. This element of business impact ought to be integral to any business looking to be part of taking South Africa forward.
We can all play a part in advancing social entrepreneurship and its impact on our economy by elevating purpose in our daily consumer choices. We can do this by choosing better alternatives to the products we normally purchase and consume. We can be intent on understanding the stories of those we buy from, and share the stories that we encounter where local businesses are making a difference in the communities we live in. Celebrate the innovators and the change makers, and we might change our future of uncertainty to one of opportunity and hope.
Odendaal is an investment analyst at Mergon, and part of the Nation Builder collaborative. www.proudnationbuilder.co.za