Social entrepreneurship means business

Social entrepreneurship is a business model in which an enterprise exists to solve a social problem — usually using entrepreneurial methods of planning and processes. Social entrepreneurs identify a problem, come up with a solution and then find the processes and funds to implement it. For developing countries, social entrepreneurship holds the double benefits of providing employment for the social entrepreneurs themselves and creating an impact for social and environmental causes that really need them. 

Here’s an example of what social entrepreneurship is not: in a cake sale, the cake’s probably been donated by parents, which means that this isn’t a sustainable business model, as parents aren’t going to keep handing over cake — they’d likely prefer to simply donate cash rather than making endless runs to a 24-Hour Woolworths or baking cake pops and brownies. A social enterprise, like any business, needs to be able to generate its own income. A cake stand that used its profits to buy more ingredients and expand a tiny market stall to a small shop, then a thriving chain, all employing previously disadvantaged women who learn about management and marketing as well as budgeting and baking? Now we’re talking business. 

What makes a social entrepreneur? 

Perhaps the quintessential social entrepreneur — and the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts — Muhammed Yunus provides a clear example of how an enterprise can promote social change. As the founder of Grameen Bank, he was responsible for pioneering microfinance and extending credit to individuals in developing nations to allow for the stimulation of their own entrepreneurial goals when they didn’t qualify for traditional bank loans. As a trained economist, Yunus was able to identify the disproportionate change that small loans could make in the businesses and lives of poor individuals with entrepreneurial aspirations, and established Grameen Bank to extend credit that differentiated itself from the predatory lending that was the only alternative at the time. An additional insight was that extending credit to women was a smart move — as well as being an underserved demographic in that they were unable to borrow money in Yunus’s India at the time, they were also statistically more likely to use their earnings responsibly. 

Why it’s working 

With millennial and gen Z shoppers coming to expect the businesses that they support to have values that align with their own, it’s no surprise that young customers are leaning towards startups that seem to have society’s best interests at heart. It’s easy to take a cynical view of enterprises that are well aware that their social heart and soul are a major part of their appeal: whether they’re truly aiming to do good or simply pandering to a social justice-conscious audience is hard to tell. On the other hand, if they’re generating solutions while truly contributing to an important cause, it’s difficult to argue against their value. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Africa needs businesses that build and strengthen the continent

Africans should know by now that they can’t depend on leaders and should rather learn to do it themselves

Black bosses, please lead us well

We need to do better to create compatible workplaces for black employees

The Portfolio: Tommy Busakhwe

Photographer Tommy Busakhwe, a participant in the Communities of the Kalahari Advocacy Project, uses his camera to tell stories of home, land and the people who live and work on it

Covid-19 could have an effect on labour law

Identifying three possible disputes that may be a real issue in South Africa

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

Women are South Africa’s changemakers and they deserve more

The truth is the economy still largely revolves around men, especially white men like me, writes Alef Meulenberg.

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

North West premier goes off the rails

Supra Mahumapelo ally Job Mokgoro’s defiance of party orders exposes further rifts in the ANC

Construction sites are a ‘death trap’

Four children died at Pretoria sites in just two weeks, but companies deny they’re to blame

Why the Big Fish escape the justice net

The small fish get caught. Jails are used to control the poor and disorderly and deflect attention from the crimes of the rich and powerful.

Koko claims bias before Zondo commission

In a lawyer’s letter, the former Eskom chief executive says the commission is not being fair to him

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…