Module 8: Social Entrepreneurship By Those In The Global South

The ‘Invisible’ Entrepreneurs

Social entrepreneurs from the Global South are seldom known.(1) This is hardly because countries in the Global South lack entrepreneurial talent; it is because many, especially those who have initiated entrepreneurial projects to lift themselves out of poverty, simply go unrecognized. The field of social entrepreneurship conventionally gives recognition only to MBAs and investment bankers, the elite group who have acquired specialized training in an institutional setting, but not to the poor and disenfranchised.(2) It is time that they are recognized as legitimate practitioners of social entrepreneurship and given the necessary support and resources. No longer satisfied with just being the clientele of social ventures, the poor, too, want to participate actively in improving their own lives.

Social Entrepreneurship: A Survival Tactic for the Poor

"The true social entrepreneurs are ghosts that never claim the glory for themselves, that work for their goal like their lives depend on it, because actually, their lives do depend on it. They don’t work to be counted. You don’t find them in congresses, seminars and forums. They don’t read literature about social entrepreneurship; they don’t study it. They just are social entrepreneurs because they need to be. They live for it and by it.”(3) – John Alexis Guerra Gomez

For many of the poor, social entrepreneurship is a vocation of necessity, not of choice. In an effort to eke out a living, many rural poor have unknowingly become what Western academics term social entrepreneurs.(4) These entrepreneurs have low or maybe even zero visibility in the field of social entrepreneurship because they do not actively engage in public relations, or they do not have resources like Internet access or even the necessary language skills to discuss their ideas. Yet, they are contributing in significant ways to the betterment of their communities. Their social ventures may not achieve a scale significant enough to trigger a paradigm shift, as is conventionally the desired outcome of social entrepreneurship, but they nevertheless still have a huge impact on their immediate surroundings, especially on the poor people around them.

Contrary to popular belief, most poor people do not want to get by on charity; they want a sustainable way of making a living. Given the tools and resources, they too can become successful social entrepreneurs. Only when they can generate a consistent income to guarantee their own financial security and their own families’ economic stability are they then willing to use their skills and resources to serve others in the community through their social ventures. “Individual ownership is the key to sustainable economic development,” says Kickstart, a nonprofit that fights poverty.(5)

Community Members as Social Entrepreneurs

It is common perception that most social ventures are initiated by foreigners who see a social problem and decide that something should be done. However, local people cannot and do not rely on the initiative of foreigners. Instead, local people themselves take the initiative to develop their own entrepreneurial plans of action in response to social problems. Moreover, they possess unsurpassed experience and knowledge of their immediate surroundings and needs, and therefore are in a good position to take action.

A powerful synergy can be created by harnessing the entrepreneurial talent of local people to develop social ventures in collaboration with social entrepreneurs from the Global North who can provide the funding and other resources. Unite For Sight, for instance, depends on such a synergy for its success; it cultivates and invests in the talent of local eye care leaders who have the determination and skill to create social enterprises that serve their community's poorest people. Unite For Sight's partners include Ghanaian ophthalmologist Dr. Thomas Baah, who founded Save The Nation's Sight Clinic to bring eye care to the doorsteps of the rural poor. Unite For Sight is also a partner of Kalinga Eye Hospital in Dhenkanal, Orissa, India, which was founded by Sarang Samal to provide low-cost, high quality eye care to some of India's most difficult to reach patients.

Karrus Hayes, a Liberian refugee and the founder of “Vision Awake” Africa For Development, is another example of a “local” social entrepreneur. The 1989-1997 Civil War in Liberia was a period of unimaginable turmoil. Fleeing for their lives, thousands of Liberians have now settled in refugee camps in neighboring countries. However, the living conditions in these camps are often deplorable, and residents suffer from the effects of poor sanitation, polluted land, and contaminated water. In one such refugee camp, Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, Karrus Hayes realized that many children could not go to school. Seeing an unfilled education need, he decided to set up a free school. He had no money, but he had an entrepreneurial spirit. With a loan of $50 and some donated church space, he started the refugee camp's only tuition-free school for needy children. Today, his organization runs several programs, including a community college, microfinance services, and orphan assistance programs.(6)

“It really touched me, but I didn’t have control over it…I’m a refugee too. I don’t have any means of helping. But I knew that I would do something because I had an idea.”(7) – Karrus Hayes

 Supporting Local Entrepreneurial Talent

“To define people by their conditions rather than their abilities is dehumanizing. When you look past the poverty, you see abilities, resources, and desires. The poor are extremely hard-working and entrepreneurial – they must be just to survive. They don’t want or need to be rescued. They want an opportunity to create a better life for their families.”(8)

Local entrepreneurial talent should be nurtured and developed. In order to do so, the field of social entrepreneurship must reach out to the “invisible” social entrepreneurs whose talent remains untapped. Ashni Mohnot suggests that entrepreneurship conferences, like the Skoll World Forum, should encourage participation from these “invisible” social entrepreneurs in the Global South. More funding should also be made available locally to fund their social ventures.(9)

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Footnotes

(1) Mohnot, Ashni. "Who's in the Social Entrepreneurship Club-and Who Isn't?." [Weblog The Pop!Tech Blog] 9 Jun 2009. Pop!tech. Web.24 Jun 2009.

(2) Mohnot, Ashni. "Coaxing Ghost Social Entrepreneurs Out of the Woodwork." [Weblog The Pop!Tech Blog] 22 Jun 2009. Pop!tech. Web.24 Jun 2009.

(3) As quoted in Mohnot, Ashni. "Coaxing Ghost Social Entrepreneurs Out of the Woodwork." [Weblog The Pop!Tech Blog] 22 Jun 2009. Pop!tech. Web.24 Jun 2009.

(4) The majority of poor people come from rural areas, see "Kick Start: What We Do: Lessons Learned." KickStart. KickStart. 24 Jun 2009.

(5) "Kick Start: What We Do: Lessons Learned." KickStart. KickStart. 24 Jun 2009.

(6) "VAAFD-Vision Awake for Africa Development." VAAFD. 25 Jun 2009.

(7) As quoted in Lee. Allison. "Letters From Buduburam," The Daily Nightly 01 Aug 2007. MSNBC. Web.24 Jun 2009.

(8) "Kick Start: What We Do: Lessons Learned." KickStart. KickStart. 24 Jun 2009.

(9) Mohnot, Ashni. "Coaxing Ghost Social Entrepreneurs Out of the Woodwork." [Weblog The Pop!Tech Blog] 22 Jun 2009. Pop!tech. Web.24 Jun 2009.