Module 8: Social Entrepreneurship in Healthcare

8.1 Applying Social Entrepreneurship To Improve Healthcare

“What exactly were Social Entrepreneurs? And why should anyone care about us? Well, in our minds, we were clearly differentiated from traditional NGOs and non-profits. Social Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers, not idealists. We’re driven by innovation not by charity. And we don’t believe in hand-outs, we use entrepreneurial strategies to achieve social change.” – Linda Rottenberg, Co-founder & CEO of Endeavor(1)

Social entrepreneurs (See the Social Entrepreneurship Online Course) are changemakers who apply their business acumen in social initiatives to improve the lives of others. They are not charities in the sense that they do not simply provide temporary relief. Rather, they leave a lasting impact on the disadvantaged by creating sustainable social ventures to address social problems. Social impact, rather than economic returns, is the yardstick for the success of the Social entrepreneur’s program. In healthcare, this often translates into the number of lives saved or the number receiving quailty health care.

Because government efforts alone are usually insufficient to ensure equitable healthcare for all, and profit-motivated private companies are often unwilling to be involved in healthcare programs that promise few economic returns, social entrepreneurs play a crucial role in healthcare development and improvement. Healthcare organizations that engage in social entrepreneurship develop health technologies for developing countries, improve child and maternal health, restore broken health systems, and fight infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS worldwide using cost-effective tools. They target the poor and disenfranchised.

8.2 Healthcare Social Entrepreneurs

“The archetypal social entrepreneur in health was Florence Nightingale: she changed hospital practices completely and established the framework and practices of professional nursing through her uncommon determination and meticulous attention to detail, even in the face of fierce opposition from experts and authorities. Such drive is typical of social entrepreneurs around the world working in myriad fields within or alongside the health sector, such as ageing, disability, HIV/AIDS, reproductive rights, and mental health, technology, post-trauma care, rehabilitation and prevention.”(2)

In order to be truly effective, many healthcare organizations are called upon to be social entrepreneurs, bridging initial innovation to final impact. Organizations like PATH partner with businesses and governments to develop solutions for AIDS, tuberculosis & malaria, work towards greater health equity for women, provide basic vaccinations to the poor and improve access to health technologies in poor communities. PATH also creates healthcare technologies for use in low-resource settings such as high nutrient rice, low cost test kits to screen for infectious diseases, single-use disposable syringes etc. Another leader in healthcare social entrepreneurship is the Institute for OneWorld Health, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company and medical research organization that develops medicines for poor patients in the developing world, a responsibility which most for-profit companies are unwilling to undertake. Take a look at their business model.  Unite For Sight's innovative model is another example of leadership in social entrepreneurship.

Those would like to combine their business acumen with their sense of social mission in the area of global health can explore careers in social entrepreneurship. They can work for nonprofit organizations like Endeavor, which identifies and supports high impact social initiatives from around the globe, some of which are directly related to healthcare. A similar organization, Acumen Fund, invests in a set of health portfolio, investing in high impact initiatives like anti-malaria bednets, micronutrient rich breakfast for Kenyans, comprehensive care for chronic diseases etc. Unite For Sight has a Young Leader of Social Change Fellowship position.

“Endeavor targets only entrepreneurs with high-impact potential. We scour a country for these entrepreneurs, help them break down a society’s barriers to success, offer world-class strategic advice, and open doors to capital. With Endeavor’s guidance, they become role models, encourage others to innovate and take risks, and create sustainable economic growth”(3)

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(1) Rottenberg, Linda. Harvard University - Social Enterprise Conference. Boston. 01 Mar 2009. Performance.

(2) DRAYTON, William; BROWN, Charlie  and  HILLHOUSE, Karin. Integrating social entrepreneurs into the "health for all" formula. Bull World Health Organ [online]. 2006, vol.84, n.8 [cited  2009-07-15], pp. 591-591. ISSN 0042-9686.  doi: 10.1590/S0042-96862006000800003.

(3) "Mission Statement." Endeavor. Endeavor. 15 Jul 2009.