Social enterprises are often misunderstood establishments and many young social entrepreneurs are then confronted with various methodological dilemmas related to the questions of when, where, how?
Recently I had the honour of participating in the 2-day Yunus East and Southern Africa business forum for youth entrepreneurs organised by the Yunus Centre and the Catholic University of Zimbabwe from the 10th-11th of April 2021.
The international workshop comprised of diverse expertise in academia and in the circles of social entrepreneurship with well – known names including Professor Yunus (Nobel peace prize laureate), Dr Mo Ibrahim, our very own Professor Ranga Zinyemba- the Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University of Zimbabwe being on the list of speakers under various plenaries.
Participants were able to mine a lot of information and gain practical guidance from gurus in the field of business academia and social entrepreneurship and I will discuss 5 of the most insightful takeaways of the deliberations for other budding social entrepreneurs to take note of and employ in their own journey:
Identify the problem
According to an African proverb, it is by the strength of their number that the ants in the field are able to carry their prey to the nest. The same applies to the social entrepreneurship jurisdiction. To be a successful social entrepreneur there is a need to start off by identifying and understanding the problem within your community as social entrepreneurship is all about social welfare and finding tailor-made solutions for vulnerable local communities.
Identifying real problems will then ensure that the intervention you design and implement will have a real traceable impact. When identifying the problem there is also a need to ensure that you are genuinely guided by the needs of the community members themselves to avoid prescribing solutions that may not be needed. Ultimately products should be structured to the needs of the vulnerable community.
It is not for you but for them
You cannot be selfish and be a social entrepreneur. The social entrepreneur is a human-centred individual with selfless qualities. For them, the people come first before profit. There should be value creation beyond the financial. After all that is what sets you aside from other entrepreneurs.
If you are still seeking self-aggrandisement then you are not ready for this journey. At the core of social entrepreneurship should be a desire to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, vulnerable and most marginalised people. This perhaps is the golden rule of social entrepreneurship. If you are constantly thinking of the people you are developing interventions for then you are ready.
Just start! As noted by Victor Hugo, “There is nothing powerful like an idea whose time has come”. There is absolutely no time more perfect than now. Entrepreneurship is an element built into every human being hence you were already born ready. The secret is to just start where you are with what you have and not procrastinate. There is no harm in starting small and growing gradually. If you have already started remember to not get comfortable but be dynamic and keep getting better as any social business is highly scalable. Be disruptive, innovative and adaptive.
It should be sustainable
Many social entrepreneurship initiatives have failed due to a lack of long term oversight as well as failure to consider both people and planet. The social entrepreneur should be conscious of the ultimate goal to achieve what Dr Muhammad Yunus coined as the 3 Zeros:
- 0 Unemployment
- 0 Net carbon emissions
- 0 wealth concentration.
For the initiative to be sustainable, there is a need to not only consider present needs but also factor in the community’s future needs. Also, remember that you are now operating in an environment where people are now more environmentally conscious than ever before hence the importance for you to design products that reflect a commitment to a healthy natural environment.
Banking on social capital
Finally, collaboration is indeed the new competition. According to a famous African Proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”. The social entrepreneur must remember to “keep people in their savings account.”
The question on the minds of many successful social entrepreneurs is, “How can we harmonise our efforts for greater impact?” You now hear of Public-Private Partnership and even People- Private- Public Partnership simply emphasizing the realisation of the need for collaboration even across sectors. This just demonstrates the importance of social capital in every endeavour and more so in the social entrepreneurship journey. You are likely to succeed, make more impact and encounter less challenges with the help of others within your sector and beyond.
Do what you can with what you have. Start now. Do not worry about perfection because most times done is better than perfect.
Who is Karen Whitney Maturure? I am a woman aged 28 who lives for writing, researching and most importantly, development work. My life and career have been driven by a strong passion to contribute to the improvement of the position of disadvantaged people in my country and the world over and I believe in the woman. I also have a strong academic grounding in human rights and project management having completed a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies at Midlands State University. I am also a student at the University of Zimbabwe who is about to complete a Master’s Degree in International Relations and a holder of a Professional Certificate in Monitoring and Evaluation with the University of Zimbabwe.
I am currently the Communications and Administration Assistant for BIO-HUB Trust. I am a qualified, dedicated and experienced development worker, with over four years’ experience in project management particularly with ROOTS Africa, under the Zimbabwe Human Rights Fund at Hivos, the Urban Space Harare environmental project and the Adolescent Sexual and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights department at the United Nations Population Fund Zimbabwe.