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Leveraging on social entrepreneurship

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In the West, the rise in the importance of social entrepreneurship has been linked to the contested legitimacy of capitalism particularly in the wake of corporate governance scandals and the global financial crisis witnessed over the past decade. This has led to calls for a transformation of capitalism so that it is not solely focused on higher profits for business but also takes into account the needs of society.
This has resulted in the birth of a new imperative for business characterised by the Triple Bottom Line where businesses are obliged to take care of not only the higher profits imperative, but people and the planet as well.
The definitions of a “social entrepreneur” and “social entrepreneurship” are contested territory with one study identifying some 37 definitions relating to the two concepts. This is a result of the lack of clarity on the boundaries and domains of social entrepreneurship.

The definitions of “social entrepreneur” and “social entrepreneurship” can sometimes be used interchangeably when the definition focuses on the individual characteristics of social entrepreneurs in terms of their qualities and behaviours.

One such definition defines a social entrepreneur as: “an individual, group, network, organisation or alliance of organisations that seeks sustainable, large-scale change through pattern-breaking ideas in what or how governments, nonprofits and businesses do to address significant social problems”.

Another definition adopting a similar approach focuses on the operating sector, processes and resources used by social entrepreneurs and defines social entrepreneurship as encompassing the activities and processes undertaken to define, exploit opportunities in order to enhance social wealth by creating new ventures or managing existing organisations in an innovative way.  Another approach to defining social entrepreneurship has been to focus on the primary mission and outcomes of the social entrepreneur.

Adopting this approach, social entrepreneurship can be construed as “a process involving the innovative use and combination of resources to pursue opportunities to catalyse social change and/or address social need”. The conceptualisation of social entrepreneurship on the basis of value creation has important lessons for the development discourse of sub-Saharan Africa including Zimbabwe which have relied on NGOs for tackling some of the pressing developmental challenges.

In the past, many NGOs and other not-for-profit organisations working in African countries have been criticised for not making any meaningful impact in these countries despite the large sums of money that are poured into their work. If the Africans are ever to build an enlightened and prosperous continent, they must develop processes that will allow development to occur. Social entrepreneurship may be such a process in that it allows Africans to rebuild their society in bite-size pieces and avoid the problems that a sea of money dumped into a society frequently causes. A shared value created approach to social entrepreneurship also may allow African societies to focus on their social issues in addition to their economic ones using techniques and systems that have long since demonstrated their efficacy in the economic arena.
-Anthony Jongwe is a researcher on Entrepreneurship and can be contacted via e-mail: itai.jongwe@esbc.co.za or enquiries@esbc.co.za

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