Social entrepreneurship is key to sustainable and inclusive growth in Asia

Sharad Vivek Sagar
Bottomline is not everything, and these 3 marketplaces built for good causes are models of social enterprise

We just cannot hope to solve the 21st century challenges with a 20th century education

Social Entrepreneurship” is relatively new to our lexicon, growing from a loosely defined concept in the mid-1950s to what today has become synonymous with some of our most beloved heartfelt business stories. We have seen children sustainably receive shoes, the unbanked getting banked, hygiene and health standards shoot up, new opportunities enter classrooms, young people acquire new skill sets and computers and the internet enter and aid schools even in some of the most underserved, remote, and disconnected parts of the world due to a rise in social entrepreneurship.

A clear case for social entrepreneurship in Asia

While the growing league of social entrepreneurial successes is poignant, numerically, the room for growth is enormous. According to a 2016 report conducted by American University, only 3.2per cent of the world’s population are engaged in creating new social ventures compared to more than double that—7.6 per cent starting commercial ventures. While some markets fair better than others, Southeast Asia as a region displays the least amount of social entrepreneurs (3.8 per cent).

Also read: For social enterprise, how to balance social good with the realities of business?

While the prevalence of global social entrepreneurship is low, specifically within Southeast Asia, we must remind ourselves the our region bore fruit to some of the greatest social entrepreneurship successes of our time and, in fact, put the concept on the global agenda with the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

Bearing these roots in mind coupled with the continued social challenges Asia faces still, the more than 1.1 billion youth in Asia who overwhelmingly want to use their skills to benefit a cause and are considered the primary leaders of the social entrepreneur movement, prove Asia has unparalleled potential to boost its current low doses of social entrepreneurship.

What we need to acknowledge and understand is the fact that government alone cannot solve all of our problems, specially in the world’s largest and most populous continent that Asia is. We need young innovators who identify new and old challenges, devise holistic and innovative solutions, solve the problems, benefit the masses, create new jobs, and lift their own communities and countries and the continent from some of its deeply plaguing challenges.

Education: The catalyst to social entrepreneurship

As a young child in India, I learned the impact education and access to information has on one’s future. I’m a big believer in the fact that your zip code shouldn’t decide your chances of success, nor should your parents’ bank balance dictate your opportunities to learn, compete, or grow. A driving force in my path to establishing Dexterity Global is education must be democratic and must be redefined to not only provide the baseline skills to survive with literacy and numeracy at is core, but it must also be elevated to encourage a more advanced form of communication, critical thinking and curiosity in order to inspire.

We just cannot hope to solve the 21st century challenges with a 20th century education and thus it is important to power the next generation of leaders through educational opportunities, something that we’re inching closer towards each day at our offices at Dexterity Global.

Further, I believe our social education models must be redefined to teach youth that obtaining wealth and securing a future is not mutually exclusive to helping society at large. Education must help youth define life ambitions mapped to a bigger life purpose that can bring change to their communities. Teaching one to live for a cause, not only helps the individual wake up each morning, raring to go, but it also creates a life-long attitude of continuous exploration and learning.

Also read: There’s no app for that: For this learning startup, the solution to effective education goes beyond tech

It would be a shame if some of our smartest people fail to put their skills and talents into solving the challenges we face as citizens of the world. And, these challenges can be solved through either non-profit or for-profit channels and in some cases, even through hybrid models.

Commercial successes can also help pay testament to this evolving trend where, by and large, somewhere along the greatest company journeys, most have reconfigured their commercial services and products to equally create social value alongside commercial success. Further to this, visionary companies have created dedicated resources to helping accelerate the next wave of social entrepreneurs in Asia through a myriad of initiatives and activities.

I have just participated in the Telenor Youth Forum in Oslo, Norway, whereby Telenor, in partnership with the Nobel Peace Center, is an example of this — bringing together some of the brightest minds from Asia to partake in stimulating dialogue on the topics of entrepreneurship and technological disruption for social good.

Means to do good: Activating social entrepreneurship

While education is the catalyst to social entrepreneurship, a solid eco-system of public and private partners must come together to breathe social entrepreneurship to life. At the most basic level, this means addressing common barriers faced by youth entrepreneurs: access to capital, lack of business and management skills, and lack of mentorship support.

Also read: raiSE Awareness: Singapore startup wants to put social enterprises on the centre stage

For governments looking to unlock the potential of the largest generation of youth in history, they have the keys to drive social entrepreneurship with funding mechanisms and financial incentives. Social entrepreneurship not only creates employment for the entrepreneurs themselves, but also if scaled successfully, creates job opportunities for peers and a younger generation.

The World Bank supports this notion with reports that 70 per cent of jobs are created by small and medium enterprises, so building greater entrepreneurship among youth is critical for a more employed society. In a region where 36 million youth are unemployed, with another 300 million underemployed, Milton Berle’s infamous quote “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” could not be more apt.

For the private sector, many might easily say support of entrepreneurs is a “win-win situation” – but it actually requires a certain mindset to look beyond short-term commercial or economic benefits in order to support entrepreneurs. It requires the “abundance mentality” and effective leadership to believe there is plenty for everyone — that what they pour in today (as investors) leads to mutual benefit down the line.

Participants of this and past years’ Telenor Youth Forum are a testament to such win-win visions playing out in the region, such as Digital Maduli, which is helping curb child drownings in Bangladesh with a small device that warns parents when their child is too close to water, or the “This is Me” social media platform which is using real-life impact story-telling to reduce discrimination and racism.

These are not visions of the future, this is today. But we cannot stop here. We cannot let these ideas die and we must begin investing in a stronger today to enable more social entrepreneurs the ability to flourish in the future.

The rise is upon us

If more of Asia’s youth are able to access information, convert their desires for a better future with their adeptness for technology and digital skills into a viable business model, the social impact that can be potentially created would not only be tremendous, but even solve some of the region’s most pressing socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Asia has the ability to capitalize on the region’s unique factors that lay way to its potential to not only be the next hotbed of social entrepreneurs but global leaders. We’re greeted with the opportunity to make this generation the one that would make poverty and illiteracy history that would ensure that through innovation and entrepreneurship more opportunities are created, more problems solved, more people empowered, more communities uplifted, more nations transformed and this world be made a better place to live in.

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