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Kenyans take up social entrepreneurship

By - | May 22nd 2012

By David Odongo

Kenyans are increasingly taking up the trend of social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship is a concept where individuals with innovative solutions to society’s pressing social problems. Such entrepreneurs are ambitious and persistent expending their energies towards major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

In place of profit, the social entrepreneur pursues social change. But, unlike the social crusader of only a generation ago, the social entrepreneur goes about accomplishing this change using the tools and precision used in building a profitable company.

In a sense then, starting one of these new ventures is perhaps less like starting a non-profit organisation and more like starting a small business. The product? A better world!

Who is a social entrepreneur? According to management consultant, Clyde Mutsotso a social entrepreneur is a change agent who works with zeal to create and sustain social values.

But can social entrepreneurship be taught? One leading university has begun experimenting on the impacts of social entrepreneurship in alleviation of poverty. Trickle Out Africa is a research project funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council(ESRC) examining social and environmental enterprises in Eastern and Southern Africa. The project considers the role and potential contribution of such enterprises to sustainable development and poverty alleviation. The project is based in Queen's University Management School.

Trickle Out Africa compiles a directory of social or environmental enterprises that produce, retail, manufacture or offer services in 19 African countries. Launched a few months  ago, Trickle Out already has an impressive 30,000 visitors and over 3000 enterprises registered on their directory.

“Trickle out Africa is also unique in the scope of the Directory as this is the first searchable Directory of these type  of organisations  drawn from 19 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. It is also available in English, French, Afrikaans, Swahili and Portuguese” reveals Dr Diane Holt, TOA lead researcher, adding that project is unique in that it combines social and environmental enterprises both considered essential for sustainable development and for a green economy in Africa.

“Our scope is to compile a directory of social or environmental enterprises that produce, retail, manufacture or offer services within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Eastern Africa Community (EAC) regions, as well as the donor agencies, voluntary associations and assurance schemes .” says Holt, who is the lead investigator and a lecturer at Queens University.

Whilst networking and identification of these enterprises is the primary benefit of the Trickle Out Africa Directory, Holt adds that the project also collects some important information on the types of enterprises, business models, funding and business history. “All this data remains classified and will be used to guide future initiatives like training, trade links and enterprise development programmes”

What will be the result of a generation educated in the disciplines, needs and ideas of social entrepreneurship?

Industrialist Manu Chandaria says as much as social entrepreneurship is rampant is other parts of the world; it is only gaining a foothold in Africa. “It will be some time before we find a social entrepreneur who weighs their own business, profession and are successful against running a social enterprise which will give them inner satisfaction.”

He adds, “At our company, we found out that unless business has a social conscience, we would not be positively influencing the people around us. Social conscience can be defined in two ways, one which is governed by standards of governance and giving the best to the clients while the second is trying to create a difference in the lives of people.”

Just like conventional entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, as a substitute to addressing social needs and challenges, is definitely gaining momentum not only in academia but among investors and a new generation of philanthropists less willing to hand out money to large foundations and other organizations. The key to success in social entrepreneurship, experts say, is to treat it like a business.

“Keep it very professional like any model business and it will give returns like any other business, only that the returns are used for worthy causes” says Mutsotso who is a managing partner at a consultancy firm, Clyde and Associates.

He adds that just like Queens University project, social entrepreneurship programs of high repute are springing up around the globe. “These programs at top schools are a great place for future social entrepreneurs to start in their quest for creating business models that will bring us a better and more just world. Like more traditional business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs make change on their own by creating a sustainable model that helps achieve their goals.”

So, what do social entrepreneurs make? Maybe it seems like an inappropriate question in a business model not necessarily created to make a profit, but then again the concept of social entrepreneurship is about creating sustainable operations. That includes having enough money to pay someone to manage the company and therein lies the problem, because some social entrepreneurs are making little or nothing at all.

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