The popularity of social enterprise—business with a social mission—is surging. MBA courses on the subject are oversubscribed and the number of social enterprises is growing around the world.
The world’s oceans are in trouble. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), half of the world’s fisheries are now fully exploited.
Skeptics of social entrepreneurship often comment, “Sure, social entrepreneurs are doing good things, but can they ever scale their impact sufficiently to put a dent in the enormous and persistent problems we face?” Scaling impact is a very serious and challenging issue, but we need a better way of framing the conversation.
An estimated 200 million children work in developing countries. Another 25 million people are enslaved in factories, farms, mines, and homes.
To question whether social entrepreneurs can achieve large-scale change is to doubt the existence of Florence Nightingale, Maria Montessori, William Wilberforce, Fazle Abed, Jimmy Wales, or the 2,700 Ashoka Fellows!
In an MBA world, I remain an unreconstructed, unrepentant MPhil. And that degree was in city planning in the last century, not business management in this one.
When asked by journalists and donors just how many lives Partners in Health has saved in Haiti, to say nothing of the additional 12 countries where the organization also works, PIHfounder Paul Farmer defaults to medical shorthand: TNTC, too numerous to count. To the question, then, of whether social entrepreneurs can create “large-scale change,” my answer is an unqualified yes.
Thirty-four years ago, Muhammad Yunus had a very good idea: he made a collateral-free loan of $27 to a group of 42 families in rural Bangladesh, to be used as working capital for home-based basket-weaving businesses. When that loan generated a profit for the families and was repaid in full, he demonstrated not only that the working poor could be credit-worthy, but that even a small loan could make a major difference to their economic situation.
Working in the private sector early in my career, I gained an appreciation for commerce as a powerful force for meeting economic and social challenges and, for that reason, naturally thought in commercial terms when attempting to bring affordable mobile telephony to Bangladesh. In fact, when I conceived what is now Grameenphone, I made a conscious decision to organize it as a for-profit company.
One of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the coming decades is to heal the relationship between industrial civilization and the environment that sustains us. In the context of this larger healing, the role of healthcare needs to be transformed and enlarged.
This year’s Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Said School of Business comes at a moment of both great celebration and great disquiet.
On the one hand, the United States has finally taken a significant step forward on health care reform, the war in Iraq seems to be ending, and there seems to be a hint of progress on global climate change.
In March 2010, Craig Kielburger of Free The Children spoke with McKinsey’s Mary Kuntz about his organization’s work in Haiti after the earthquake in January.