The sustainable development goals (SDGs) set forth by the UN in September have boldly shaped the development agenda, and rightly so. Major problems still persist: the Global Monitoring Report forecasts that 700 million people remain living on less than $1.90 a day in 2015, marginalized populations lack necessary access to crucial services, and governments struggle to reach these ultra-poor communities living in remote corners of the world.
The expectation is that the market will provide the solution and the “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” did not materialize across a number of important sectors like health and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, and other services that have transformational effects on people’s lives. Without them, the world’s poorest cannot take advantage of economic opportunities and escape poverty.
Alina is launching a venture to train and match new graduates with startups in Mexico. Marcia is piloting cost-effective and ecological housing solutions in Mozambique. Ahmed is working to sell oven shelving units to rural women in Egypt so they can increase their income.
All these social entrepreneurs are thousands of miles apart from each other, in different countries, in different regions, in different sectors and different time-zones. Despite these differences however, they often face similar challenges and obstacles in scaling their business operations. Many find interim solutions to some of these challenges, while others simply cannot overcome them and, despite their potential, are unable to become viable. If these social entrepreneurs have the opportunity to share their experiences with one another, the solutions social entrepreneurs develop can work across boundaries, countries, and even sectors.
“Every time I see a problem, I create a social business to solve it,” renowned Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus said to an overflowing room at the World Bank Group’s Headquarters in Washington, DC this summer. “Set up a social business.”
“The poor are like Bonsai trees,” the founder of Grameen Bank explained, “When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a six-inch-deep flower pot, you get a perfect replica of the tallest tree, but it is only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil-base you provided was inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds. Only society never gave them a base to grow on."
Earlier this year, we launched our eLearning course for social enterprises in January with a second installment in May. Social enterprises from across the globe – from places we didn’t even think we could reach – applied. So we began to wonder, who are these social enterprises? What are their models? What do they need most to reach the most marginalized populations? So I sat down with Charles Njemo Batumani and Arun Kumar Das, two social entrepreneurs who finished the first installment of our eLearning course in January to see what they’ve done, where they see their enterprises going and why eLearning was a way for them to improve their social enterprise. Charles is building affordable housing for low and middle income earners in Limbe, Cameroon while Arun is developing a natural plant product to combat malnutrition in Odisha, India.
After a day of discussions on how to scale social enterprise innovations to improve health outcomes during an event hosted by the World Bank Group’s (WBG) Innovation Labs and Health Global Practice on June 8th, one clear message emerged – public-private dialogue and collaboration, as well as collaboration between the public sector, the private sector and multilateral organizations such as the WBG is required to reach those living at the last mile.
A prime example of this need can be seen in a mobile phone health clinic program developed by VillageReach, a social enterprise working to provide access to quality health care to underserved communities through an integrated approach.
Traditionally innovation and entrepreneurship are seen as drivers of jobs and competitiveness, however we think it can also be an important driver of inclusiveness and social development.
We see how private actors are driving social development – the example of the Development Marketplace and its spin-off Social Enterprise Innovations program demonstrate the potential for scaling inclusive businesses, grassroots innovations and social entrepreneurship to solve development challenges like sanitation, clean water, early childhood nutrition, health-care services, and many more. We have examples in our portfolio of how social enterprises are delivering low cost TB treatments in poor communities, delivering clean water to urban and rural poor, and offering education opportunities to girls.
There is a perfect start, there is a less than perfect start and there is an imperfect start. As a social entrepreneur, the thing I have learned is that it pays to START- even if it’s less than perfect or imperfect.
So, there I was, I had left my job, had no savings, but kept people like Bonti in my mind. But, I had no idea how, or even where to start.
Eye Research Center (ERC) Eye Care was officially founded in the summer of 2011. With the generous help of my mother, we were just one clinic – in her kitchen – in the heart of the city. Although we had a strong mission, we quickly realized that to the outside world, there was nothing to differentiate us from other ophthalmic clinics spread across the city. But what exactly was ERC Eye Care? We had initially set it up as a sole proprietorship, as it was the cheapest and easiest registration process, but we weren’t strictly a for-profit business. Were we a NGO? Or were we something else entirely?
Earlier this year, the World Bank Group Leadership, Learning and Innovation vice presidency’s Development Marketplace program piloted its first eLearning course for social enterprises, “Innovative Business Models for Better Impact.” The course was developed by the DM in collaboration with the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) of Santa Clara University. The goal was to strengthen the capacity of social enterprises and NGOs to develop and implement business models that improve social services to poor populations in order to scale.