Can social entrepreneurship be a panacea to the socio-economic ills post COVID-19 pandemic?

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By Vovo Ngcwabe – Head of CSI and Stakeholder Management , Barloworld

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic is having far-reaching social and economic implications that have sharpened the economic disparities, accelerated the already spiraling unemployment rate and further deepened the levels of poverty.

There is consensus that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on communities will continue to haunt us for a foreseeable future. The statistics on the impact of Covid-19 on the economy makes for grim reading. According to the National Treasury, the economy was expected to contract by 7.2% in 2020. The economy has already shed 3 millions jobs, and women accounted for 2 million of the jobs lost.

The bleak economic projections do not bode well for the country’s prospects to generate much-needed employment opportunities, increase tax revenue for the fiscus to fund the growing social welfare system and address the infrastructure backlog and extricate millions of people from grinding poverty.

The need for social entrepreneurs

The socio-economic challenges that South Africa is facing provide fertile ground for the growth of social entrepreneurs who can develop sustainable solutions that will help to address the unique challenges facing their communities, while simultaneously growing sustainable and profitable businesses.

Social entrepreneurs are a growing number of conscientious entrepreneurs who are focused on solving some of the world’s biggest problems by utilising the latest technologies and innovations to make a positive impact in communities.

Purpose over reward

Making money is not enough for them. They need to add meaningful value to the world. Social enterprises can fulfil an urgent desire to work with purpose and align people’s efforts with their values. By harnessing the power of technology and innovation, resourceful social entrepreneurs can make a meaningful impact that will improve the welfare of the communities they operate in and beyond.

The conscientious Millennials, unlike the previous generations, are driven by a sense of purpose over reward or profit motive. They seek to be agents of change and always seek an opportunity to contribute meaningfully towards the betterment of their communities.

Battling the impact of climate change

Social entrepreneurship can serve as an outlet that allows them to plug service delivery challenges in underserviced areas and develop solutions that can help to mitigate the impact of climate change and other challenges such as water shortage and wastage.

Africa has been identified as one of the parts of the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Closer to home, South Africa is classified as a water scarce country, yet 37% of the country’s clean water is lost through leaks from ageing infrastructure, according to a 2017 GreenCape market intelligence report. South Africa is surrounded by an expansive coastline spanning more than 3,000km, however, this rich and diverse marine resource is threatened by pollution which undermines the ocean economy that benefits many communities.

These are some of the examples where budding entrepreneurs can develop scalable and sustainable solutions to address these challenges, while earning a return on their investment.

New paths must be forged

The new normal that has been ushered in by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic presents us with an opportunity to overhaul the existing funding regime and develop innovative and customised funding models and facilities that will cater for this emerging form of enterprise.

In a bid to level the playing field, government has promulgated broad-based black economic empowerment legislation to compel companies to plough back in economically marginalised communities and give black and female-owned companies a leg up through a range of interventions such as equity ownership, enterprise development and corporate social responsibility.

The economic landscape is slowly changing and we are beginning to see the green shoots where communities are increasingly playing a central role in local economic development. Because social entrepreneurship is rooted in addressing the needs of the community, it puts them at the centre of the development agenda and ensures that the community is not only confined to being consumers, but also wealth creators.

Communities in the driving seat

The days of the top down approach where government and big business were the all-knowing benefactors are gone – social entrepreneurship is now putting communities in their rightful place: in the driving seat.

Barloworld Mbewu, a development programme designed to power the growth of social enterprises in South Africa, has been recently launched by Barloworld. Since its inception, it has enabled social entrepreneurs who are active in the automotive space, agro-processing and farming, as well as the medical field, among others. The Barloworld Mbewu programme will seek to build a network of key stakeholders, both public and private, to support the growth of social entrepreneurship in the country.

Social entrepreneurship fosters a more inclusive participation in the economy and gives communities a sense of ownership, which goes a long way to curtailing vandalism of infrastructure and wasteful expenditure by the state. This holds true for a growing number of communities that are slowly taking charge of their development agenda.

As our society grapples with how it will reverse the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, it is prudent and sensible that social entrepreneurship should be prioritised. Government should create an enabling policy framework that allows social entrepreneurs to thrive, while organised businesses and development funding institutions should develop innovative ways of ensuring that this emerging sector is incubated and enabled to reach its full potential.

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