By Courtney Trenwith
An impressive array of social entrepreneurs are changing the world, and making money at the same time, says Courtney Trenwith
Two of the world’s greatest priorities — jobs and eradicating poverty — are inextricably linked. Create a job and the worker (including the self-employed) has the ability to not only dig themselves out of the cycle of handouts, whether from governments or charities, but also their families, and sometimes their communities.
But more than that, an impressive number of small businesses are now also extending the ability to help to customers, by pinning their success on not only how many goods they sell or services they provide, or how much profit they reap, but what difference they make to the world.
Social entrepreneurship has become the coolest thing to do in business, and rightly so.
We highlight one of the pioneers in our feature interview with TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie. Many will already be familiar with the TOMS concept: you buy a pair of shoes and another is provided to a person in need. But those donated pairs of shoes do far more: the wearer then has the ability to walk to school or a medical clinic — TOMS says it has seen a 42 percent increase in participation in maternal health care programmes, a significant increase in primary school enrolments and more than 2 million children have been protected from hookworm in areas where it distributes shoes. Nothing like a domino effect.
In the UAE, start-up Dumyé: Dolls with Purpose has gifted thousands of handcrafted eco-friendly rag dolls to some of the 132 million orphans worldwide. Each doll has been donated through the profits made from sales, in what award-winning founder Sahar Wahbeh says brings “love and light” to children void of such simple experiences often taken for granted by others.
The essential elements of these businesses are ‘social’ and ‘sustainable’. They prove that choosing to address a world problem can be conducive to profits (and the reality is, many entrepreneurs are also motivated by money). In fact, several social entrepreneurship competitions, such as the Hult Prize and The Venture, insist that the business also be profitable.
While social entrepreneurship is a relatively contemporary concept and applies only to start-ups, large corporations that have already made their millions, sometimes billions, through typical business means also are increasingly putting their money to good use, and often not just in the form of donations.
For example, Dubai-based Mara Group, which operates across Africa and is now worth about $1bn, has launched several initiatives that support people in low income countries to develop their own businesses. A Middle East version of Mara Mentor, which pairs people with expertise with those who need it, was launched in Dubai last week. The online application already has partnered 700,000 in dozens of countries.
Some of these ideas stem from the microfinance concept coined by Bangladeshi Professor Muhammad Yunus, who established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983 to provide small amounts of credit to allow poor people to build up their own business. He won the Nobel Prize for his idea, which has spread worldwide.
The Arab world alone requires tens of millions of jobs by 2020 (the Arab Knowledge Report estimates a minimum of 17 million jobs are needed just to maintain unemployment levels). With lower oil revenues in the past 18 months, governments also are reducing their public sectors, which have traditionally been a stable job provider in many Arab countries, making the private sector and entrepreneurship evermore essential.
Giving is already embedded in the Arab and Islamic cultures. As entrepreneurship also blooms, this region could be a real leader in social entrepreneurship. The opportunities and outcomes are exciting.