Understanding Social Entrepreneurship

Essentially, social entrepreneurs identify public problems and apply business acumen to resolve them. Instead of using a venture solely to make a profit, they aim at simultaneously impacting a society and regulating positive change. The success of such an endeavor is, therefore, measured not just on the basis of balance sheets, but on the effect it has had on a community.

Social entrepreneurship demands the same confidence, motivation and innovation as any other business, but in a manner that prioritises social development and the simultaneous creation of social and economic values. Hence, more than making a profit, it amounts to executing social change by means of unique solutions that help a community overcome established obstacles.

By definition, most social entrepreneurs take on problems that are ideally in the domain of government concern. Instead of waiting around for problems to be solved or brushing them under the carpet as many governments and societies are wont to do, they see them as opportunities to effect positive change. Social entrepreneurship is therefore all about combining a vision for a brighter future with the realization that, in order to achieve long-term goals, drastic effort and creative solutions are called for.

Like any other business venture, social entrepreneurship programs cannot be isolated exercises. Most entrepreneurs, for instance, promote a non-profit organization in the hope that other individuals and agencies will move in to support the cause and help multiply its benefits across larger sections of society. The extent of success of such endeavors is often based on the amount of collaboration and grassroots involvement they are able to generate.

Furthermore, and just like business ventures, social entrepreneurship projects depend on some degree of risk-taking. Only, in this case, the risk is not limited to financial security but involves social activism and passion. In this context, social entrepreneurship activities may appear to be incredibly perilous, but the risks pay off many times more in terms of their benefits to society.

The Impact on Society

Social entrepreneurship is as important for a growing society as business entrepreneurship is for a developing economy. They are both critical for sustainable development and accelerated inclusive growth.

The significance of their impact on societies can be gauged from the contributions of some eminent social entrepreneurs who are feted for positively and permanently impacting our world. In 19th Century United States, Susan B Anthony led the fight for women’s suffrage and helped establish equal rights for them. In 20th Century India, Vinoba Bhave founded the Land Gift Movement that caused the redistribution of more than 700,000 acres of land to the country poorest. Italian physician Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) determined deficiencies in the early educational system and developed a new approach that continues to be relevant across the world today. Before her, compatriot Florence Nightingale helped establish the first school for nurses and fought to improve hospital conditions. Birth control activist Margaret Sanger encouraged family planning around the world with her Planned Parenthood Federation of America. These and other social entrepreneurs have made extraordinary contributions in shaping the modern world.

Examples of Nigerian Social Entrepreneurship

It is hardly surprising that social entrepreneurship has tremendous relevance for Nigeria, a country of paradoxical economic realities, with booming oil revenues on one hand and decrepit poverty on the other. Civil strife, political turmoil and religious upheavals have all contributed to turning this resource-rich nation of 148 million people into a landscape of economic malfunction and some of the worst human development indicators for the entire African continent. The return of democracy at the end of the last century and the installation of progressive policies have started the process of redirected growth through more sustainable means. Today, Nigeria is seen as having stepped back from the abyss of economic and social disaster and on the brink of a resurgence projected to take the second largest economy in Africa to the top twenty economies of the world by 2020.

A host of Nigerian social entrepreneurs are actively helping achieve this objective by alleviating social ills and driving positive change through innovative solutions.

Durojaiye Isaac instituted DMT Mobile Toilets in Lagos in 1999, an organization that strives to make a difference to the economic and environmental health of Nigeria. His social enterprise produces, hires out and maintains portable toilets, promoting sanitation and creating job opportunities for hundreds of local youths. For his innovative contributions, Isaac was awarded the prestigious Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2005.

Joachim Ezeji is the founder of Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP), an ambitious program dedicated to improving access to potable water in remote Nigerian communities. Founded in 2000, the project continues to train new members in an effort to develop community water infrastructure across the tropical country. Since its inception, RAWDP has given millions of Nigerians access to clean drinking water.

Ada Onyejike launched the Girl Child Art Foundation (GCAF) which promotes education and social change by empowering young women through performance arts and creative writing. This pioneering enterprise focuses on issues like child marriage, trafficking and polygamy through art, music and dance in and effort to engineer progressive change in Nigerian society. Beginning as a small volunteer operation in 2000, Onyejike’s foundation currently reaches thousands of women in the age group 8-25 in hundreds of communities across the country.

Cletus Olebune operates an outfit that tells the world about events occurring in Africa in an effort to boost tourism and open up the continent to the world. This passionate social entrepreneur uses the power of the written word to help Nigerians in diverse aspects of their lives, imparting knowledge and education to boost productive engagements and improve the country standing in world rankings.

Gbenga Uriel Ogunjimi, a social entrepreneurship pioneer, works to promote employment opportunities for Nigerian youths. He runs Landmark Internship International, which uses the Internet to connect with social enterprises around the world in need of local talent, as a means of meeting the nation’s social and economic challenges.

Rochas Okorocha is a rich entrepreneur. He established the Rochas Foundation which was borne out of a simple commitment to help the less privileged and poorest in the society. The foundation also focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty so that children can become self sufficient, contributing members of their societies.

These are just a few examples of social entrepreneurs and their impact on Nigeria’s holistic growth prospects. Besides generating employment, innovative goods and services and fostering equitable growth in society, they help generate the much needed social capital that is crucial for Nigeria’s emergence as a worthwhile economic powerhouse.

by Peter O Osalor

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