Social Entrepreneurship in Africa: A New Business Model in a Blossoming Continent
By: Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and Social Venture Lawyer
June 21, 2012
“I’m encouraging young people to become social business entrepreneurs and contribute to the world, rather than just making money. Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.”
– Muhammad Yunus, Founder of the Grameen Bank
Social entrepreneurship is a partnership – it combines both social objectives such as feeding the poor, creating jobs, promoting education along with traditional business objectives of profit-making. Traditionally, an investor– like a Mega-Corporation—thinks of a project the same way a predator thinks of its prey. The goal is to extract as much capital as possible with little regard for the well being of the environment in which that capital lives. The new social venture model, recognizing that all boats rise with the tide, hopes to profit while making a “satisfied customer” of the environment. In plain speak, it means if we’re going to make money on business projects in Africa, then we must help the local people to create jobs, receive skills training and partner with the local Africans so that when and if we make profits from helping them develop their natural resources then we all share in those profits. This is the first principle of social entrepreneurship and the first principle by which I guide my business ventures.
I have been privileged to work with social ventures in Africa since 1994 and have visited Africa as early as 1983 to visit my uncle and his family, who served as missionaries in Africa for 35 years. Following in the example my family set for me, I’ve been on three mission trips to Africa. These have been astonishing experiences that have left me grateful and happy to be able to help others. In my life, I’ve been blessed to help feed hundreds of children in Africa and to express my love and devotion to a beautiful people. By getting involved, even taking little steps, we can all touch people, helping to change the course of lives forever. That is the essence of social ventures and social entrepreneurship – creating sustainability for the business, the employees and the local people – hopefully making a profit while doing good.
As you will see in my subsequent Series of Seven Articles, sometimes committing your life to a worthy cause like social ventures comes with many challenges such as: differing world views, oppositional goals and objectives (especially from banks and investors), the unpredictable nature of people, and a limitless host of other complications and factors. Face it – business is hard – let alone social ventures in Africa – with at least half of all businesses in the United States failing within five years (a Harvard professor notes that up to 66% of all businesses fail from differing viewpoints between people in the start-up process).
However, helping those in need in Africa or elsewhere around the world is a cause worth fighting for and an opportunity for social ventures and socially-motivated organizations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oprah Winfrey or The Grameen Bank to make a tremendous positive impact. We can all help by getting involved in helping others in your own home, in your neighborhood or city or any other place in the world where people need a helping hand.
Africa, once known as “The Dark Continent” is a booming economic giant with abundant natural resources, growing economies and a rapidly expanding middle class. Not surprisingly, the business world is noticing. As Forbes states, “African economies easily rank among the most resilient in the world. In the middle of the 2009 global economic recession, Africa was the only region apart from Asia that grew positively at about 2%.” And it will get even better in 2012. Africa is favorably positioned to become one of the fastest growing regions in the world, and according to the International Monetary Fund, economic growth across the entire continent of Africa will be an amazing 6% in 2012.
Africa remains, however, largely misunderstood. The media and news networks generally focus their stories on the negative news: the dictators, conflicts, pirates, health issues and more. This negative bias by the media has led to ignorance on the part of the people of the developed nations of the world to the vast and burgeoning investment climate in much of Africa. Of course, as noted above, the mega-corporations are all jumping on the bandwagon long before the rest of the world catches up. This is how the mega-corporations seize their market share and maintain dominance, through recognizing the emerging economies, market opportunities and consumer spending trends before the rest of the of this world, and pouncing. Currently, much of their attention is focused on the emerging markets of Africa.
Africa also has 400 million people living on less than $1.25 per day. The mega-corporations cannot and should not reap the benefits of the abundant natural resources of Africa without first addressing the heart-felt needs of the local people for nourishing food, clean water, an opportunity for a job and the basic necessities of life. It is this basic principle that separates the social venture and socially-responsible companies from the mega-corporations. Thankfully, social entrepreneurship is an economic phenomenon that allows the global innovator to recognize an investment opportunity or market trend and capitalize on it utilizing a unique and solidifying arsenal of tools such as social venture capital, new business structures, growing social awareness, social media, non-profit support and grassroots entrepreneurship. Examining the social entrepreneurship model as it relates to the role of the social entrepreneur in Africa – as an emerging trend in an emerging continent – and discussing the value proposition of the idea of partnering with – or supporting – social entrepreneurs in Africa is the goal of my research and writing.
Social venturers or social entrepreneurs see the “greater good” in working on projects that have both a financial and social business purposes. As stated by some social venture pioneers, social ventures are revolutionary and are here to stay.
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”
- Bill Drayton of Ashoka Foundation
“Social entrepreneurs have existed throughout history. St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, would qualify as a social entrepreneur — having built multiple organizations that advanced pattern changes in his “field.” Similarly, Florence Nightingale created the first professional school for nurses and established standards for hygiene and hospital care that have shaped norms worldwide. What is different today is that social entrepreneurship is developing into a mainstream vocation, not only in the United States, Canada, and Europe, but increasingly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In fact, the rise of social entrepreneurship represents the leading edge of a remarkable development that has occurred across the world over the past three decades: the emergence of millions of new citizen organizations.”
- David Bornstein – How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
“We need to reverse three centuries of walling the for-profit and non-profit sectors off from one another. When you think for-profit and non-profit, you most often think of entities with either zero social return or zero return on capital and zero social return. Clearly, there’s some opportunity in the spectrum between those extremes. What’s missing is the for-profit finance industry coming in to that area. Look at the enormous diversity of the for-profit financial industry as opposed to monolithic nature of the non-profit world; it’s quite astonishing.”
-Bill Drayton – Ashoka Foundation
Article I in the Series is entitled: Introduction to my Social Venture Work in Africa.