Friday, 3 August 2007

Harnessing the potential of social entrepreneurs

Many leading companies are starting to understand that profitable business lines can be developed out of the need to tackle pressing social issues, and that when done successfully, this is far more effective than philanthropy. But individuals have been doing this for years. As the International Business Leaders Forum reports in its recent eBulletin newsletter, social entrepreneurs have been behind many of the most innovative and scalable solutions to challenges in international development – from the provision of school meals or waste management in urban areas, to the development and installation of low-cost solar energy systems. Social entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but what makes them stand out is that they use entrepreneurial principles to tackle a particular social problem. Like Martin Kalungu-Banda, founder of Zambia's The Forum for Business Leaders and Social Partners, who forged a partnership between the country’s largest supermarket, local communities and government, which became a profitable model that business could replicate nationwide. The solution was good for business, and good for the local communities.

Many organisations have worked with social entrepreneurs for years, such as Ashoka or the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. But there is a gap in the understanding of how large multinationals can work with social entrepreneurs.

Picking up on work conducted by the CSR Initiative at Harvard University, IBLF recently produced a short report entitled, Harnessing Potential: why it makes sense for your business to work with social entrepreneurs. Companies can work with social entrepreneurs to help develop into underserved markets, while social entrepreneurs can help companies both design products and services that create value for low-income people and distribute those products and services more efficiently.

So far, so good – in theory. But as usual the challenge is in the implementation. To help, IBLF has compiled a list of social entrepreneurs that we think could make suitable partners for businesses. We’d also be interested to know of case studies where multinational companies have forged effective partnerships with social entrepreneurs.

No comments: