By Shikha Nepal
Entrepreneurs have long been known to be the “backbone” of economic growth and job creation. At the recent 2012 State of Entrepreneurship Address, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation along with others called for state and local government policy changes to foster entrepreneurship and accelerate economic growth. As Schumpeter defined it an entrepreneur is a “person who is willing and able to convert a new idea or invention into a successful innovation”. And innovation drives growth and competitiveness.
There is no doubt that the foundation of many established and emerging economies lies on the innovative economic and financial endeavors and performance of their entrepreneurs. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, eBay or Starbucks are the products of persistent, visionary, diligent, innovative founders. The role of entrepreneurship has been focused on the economic and technological innovation. However, the new generation of entrepreneurs is also changing the social and environmental development. Recent trends1show that more and more companies are promoting participation in community development and are also engaging in socially responsible investments. This applies to large, established corporations as well as start ups.
The Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative8 by UNDP also stresses on the necessity of interaction and partnership between human development efforts and businesses. Often companies have taken bold steps on their own to initiate change.
Companies like S.C. Johnson2 and Unilever India3 started addressing their basic “social responsibility” as a corporation and invested directly in the socioeconomic upliftment of communities all over the world. In addition, IT companies like SAP4 have integrated sustainability as part of their corporate strategy, which includes social performance and support for socioeconomic development. Recently the company introduced social sabbatical projects in Brazil (Maos de Minas5 and ASMARE6), India and South Africa allowing high-potential employees to participate supporting the work of non-profit organizations in emerging economies. Energy companies, such as Total, Tenesol and Electricité de France set up the Temasol Company7 to operate a country-wide rural electrification Programme in Morocco.
Companies can support the social, economic and environmental upliftment of society and community. This creates more opportunities for a direct collaboration, investment and partnerships between corporations and social entrepreneurs. Ashoka.org9 defines social entrepreneurs as, “individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change”.
Social entrepreneurs identify financial, human and infrastructural sources that can assist them in working towards a social goal. Companies can incorporate partnerships with social entrepreneurship organizations to channel financial, infrastructural and human capital and increase the program impact. This can be done in different ways. Examples include directly investing in the endeavors of a social entrepreneur without any expectation of financial return; buying medical equipments and medicine required by a doctor who is serving uninsured patients or patients who are in remote parts of the world; allowing employees to volunteer during work days to assist programs driven by social entrepreneurs; creating partnerships for education, health or economic empowerment initiatives.
Long-term partnerships between corporations and social entrepreneurs have a tremendous potential to benefit local communities and causes while help companies executing against their sustainability and corporate social responsibility commitment.
The growing presence of social entrepreneurs provides a hope for a “social change” that will start at a local level and slowly makes an impact on a national or global level. A partnership between corporations and social entrepreneurs can create a strong foundation for sustainable development.