Social entrepreneurship is gaining traction

  • Columns
  • Monday, 30 Mar 2015

Epic Homes, which builds homes for underprivileged Malaysian communities, is one of the social entreprises that seek to drive positive impact in their communities and to generate a good income while doing so.

Entrepreneurs with a social conscience, balancing profit and social good?It can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Last week, I had the privilege of giving a keynote at the International Conference for Youth Leadership Conference (ICYL), which was organised by the Ministry of Sports and Science (KBS). The conference was attended by hundreds of social entrepreneurs and those aspiring to be part of the impact movement.

In my address, I spoke about how the concept of “Social Entrepreneurship” (SE) is not a novel idea. However it has recently become more popular not just here in Malaysia, but globally as well. In fact, it is now deemed on par with other economic drivers in many parts of the world except that on top of capital growth, SE solves significant social and environmental issues as well.

Although there are still arguments worldwide as to what exactly defines a social entrepreneur, it broadly means an entrepreneur who draws on business techniques or strategies to solve social or environmental problems in a financially sustainable manner. In other words, social entrepreneurs measure positive returns to society as much as they measure profits.

So why is this important and why do we need to invest in this now?

We have the opportunity to address many problems in developing nations like ours, and we need a platform for innovative and impactful solutions. Access to education, basic infrastructure, clean water and sanitation are some of the most pressing social issues of our time. In our backyard alone, 1.45 million Malaysians are still living in poverty, earning less than USD$5 (RM18) a day.

As daunting as it may seem, we should embrace the generation of social entrepreneurs tackling these issues head on. What others see as problems, they see as opportunities to drive positive impact in their communities and to generate a good income while doing so.

They are the pragmatic visionaries of today. We are seeing a healthy growth of SEs and its influence here in Malaysia, as well as the number of young people excited about doing good while creating successful businesses. It’s definitely something we should all support.

Creating this type of impactful change is only possible through cross collaboration between the public, private and non-profit sectors. Social enterprises like Arus Academy, Tonibung, Epic Homes, MakanLah, and TRY Mabul sit at the intersection of those cross-sector collaborations to transform communities.

Arus, for example, is an afterschool space that provides meaningful learning experiences to enable students from underserved communities to become better learners, and subsequently unlock better socioeconomic opportunities for them in the future. Arus’ social impact is delivered through a viable business model, where revenue generated from its Arus Camps will be used to sustain Arus Academy that caters specifically to the underserved community. Coupled with the founders’ skills and passion to run the venture, social enterprises such as Arus can provide impactful change to the community it serves.

There is a proverb that says “Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for a lifetime.” The ideal social entrepreneur go further than that by building the infrastructure to lay foundations and transform industries so that more people can feed their entire family for a lifetime.

Of course, SE is still in its infancy in Malaysia. In 2013, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak, announced a RM20mil fund to MaGIC to lead and strengthen the SE space in Malaysia.

Together with some of the existing SE intermediaries and supporters such as MyHarapan, Tandemic, Scope Group, British Council, UMK, YIM and others, MaGIC SE will develop its three core functions; first to build legitimacy and a framework to support the ecosystem; second, to grow capabilities and access to capital in the sector; thirdly, to connect and strengthen the SE community.

One of the first steps we are taking is to launch a nationwide survey and host roundtable discussions with stakeholders to determine what is the acceptable definition of an SE in Malaysia and who falls under that umbrella. Next, I believe that we should shift the mindset of the private and public sector from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) towards SE because of the bigger and more sustainable social impact that it can potentially generate.

Last weekend, at the 1 Asean Entrepreneurship Summit (1AES), Finance Minister II, Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni launched the MaGIC Accelerator Program (MAP). The Social Enterprise Track will be the first social enterprise accelerator in Malaysia, starting in July 2015, where 25 local social enterprises will be provided training, mentoring and funding to kick off their impact ventures.

In pursuit of the capital economy, we must not forget about the people economy, and I firmly believe that SE plays an important role in bridging that gap. As custodians of our planet for the generations to come, I believe that we should take lead and actively participate in the social and economic growth of our country.

What is in your hand that can help make that difference in a nation, a community and for a fellow human being?

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