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.
Social enterprises have the potential to address these delivery gaps and provide innovative solutions which effectively reach the poorest of the poor. Social enterprises achieve impressive results, but often remain under the radar of governments, donors, and impact investors. They have a huge potential, but there is still more work to be done to fully capitalize on the potential.
So what does this work entail, and who needs to be involved?
The World Bank’s Social Enterprise Innovations (SEI) team in Innovation Labs and the Skoll Foundation have partnered to try to address these questions. Recently we convened a panel of prominent experts united in their mission to build a more prosperous and sustainable world to discuss how international institutions can leverage social enterprises and improve the lives of those living in extreme poverty. Sally Osberg, CEO of Skoll Foundation and co-author of “Getting Beyond Better: How social entrepreneurship works” represented the world of philanthropy and the largest social entrepreneurship foundation. Willy Foote, CEO and Founder of Root Capital brought us the voice of social entrepreneurs and decades of experience in addressing and successfully solving the need of the poor. Ede Jorge Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director for the World Bank Group’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience (GSURR) Global Practice spoke on behalf of World Bank projects providing services to the poorest and underserved. The conversation encouraged a holistic perspective into the root cause of the service delivery issue and how a unified stakeholder community can support innovative solutions that make a sustainable impact.
The essence of what defines a social entrepreneur as derived from “Getting Beyond Better”: someone who seeks “to go beyond better to bring about a transformed, stable new system that is fundamentally different than the world that preceded it.” With the development community aiming ambitiously high in its targets, social entrepreneurs such as Mr. Foote, have a new opportunity to address problems with their innovations. Willy’s account of the challenges and successes of running a social enterprise in agricultural finance, highlighted the fundamental importance of intentional design and hard work to scale innovative solutions to the poor.
But once social entrepreneurs are identified, supported, and strengthened, what is the missing component? The answer is partnerships. Without the public sector working together with social enterprises, the prospect for scale diminishes. For example, Mr. eIjjasz-Vasquez, highlighted the ability of social enterprises to play a fundamental role in delivering basic services to the poor in an urban and rural context. Support from international agencies such as the World Bank is crucial, and there are many examples of successful implementation.
Between the World Bank’s twin goals and the recently launched SDGs, all actors in the development community must come together to move beyond better for a more sustainable world.