Social entrepreneurship gaining traction among Indonesian youths

The Indonesian Bamboo Community is exploring the innovation of bamboo musical instruments to stimulate the country's creative industry. — Indonesian Bamboo Community/ The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

AMONG the vocations that have gained popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic is “social entrepreneurship”, which is defined as the use of business mechanisms to tackle social challenges, or combining commercial and welfare logics to operate organisations.

According to a study by British Council Jakarta, social entrepreneurship has become an attractive career option for young people in Indonesia. What makes social entrepreneurship interesting is that it transforms social problems into business opportunities that create value.

Take for example Noor Huda Ismail, a well-known social entrepreneur and a product of the Ashoka Fellowship.

Instead of using a “hard approach” to tackle terrorism and youth unemployment in Central Java, he chose to set up Dapoer Bistik, a warung (food stall) selling beef steak, which opens doors for former terrorism convicts by providing them with new skills, income, shared ownership, new social status and a new identity, helping free them from discrimination and stigmatisation.

If food, entrepreneurship, innovation and technology can settle conflicts, why can we not use them as tools for social transformation? Accordingly, many experts also call social entrepreneurship “transformative entrepreneurship”, given its promise to transform social problems into opportunities that create social and commercial value.

The bigger question is, why do some people choose to become social entrepreneurs? What factors drive them to take the plunge?

While many experts have published studies on why young people develop an intention to become social entrepreneurs, most of these studies were conducted in Western or other non-Indonesian contexts.

Few have examined why youths in Indonesia, particularly those who are at the career contemplation stage, may have an intention to become social entrepreneurs and what drives this intention.

An answer to this question is critical as it can help us understand not only the factors that trigger the intention but also offer concrete guidance and policies to support youths who want to be social entrepreneurs.

Our interest in what makes people entrepreneurial and with what outcomes in the past two decades has led to a collaborative research journey to examine what drives Indonesian youths who are at the career contemplation stage to develop the intention to be social entrepreneurs.

In one study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production (2020), our survey of over 650 students from Surabaya, Semarang and Samarinda suggested that the youths’ desire to serve the public (their public service motivation) positively triggered their intention to be social entrepreneurs, while their desire for money and success negatively triggered the intention.

We also found that their confidence in becoming social entrepreneurs (their entrepreneurial self-efficacy) positively influenced their intention to be social entrepreneurs.

Most importantly, we found that their confidence played a central role in channelling their desire to serve the public and desire for money and success into a positive force that triggered the intention to be social entrepreneurs.

This helped us conclude that although social entrepreneurship can be seen as a struggle between public interest and private interest, public interest plays a bigger role (than private interest) in predicting the youths’ intention to be social entrepreneurs.

In the second study, published in the Journal of Business Venturing Insights (2021), we were initially inspired by many anecdotal stories and best-seller business books that claimed that passion was very important to help people to achieve success and bring the best out of them.

Unfortunately, there has been little interrogation of the role of entrepreneurial passion – the intense feeling to engage in entrepreneurial activities – to explain people’s intention to be social entrepreneurs. We argue that entrepreneurial passion is a glue that binds people’s interest for things related to money and success (pecuniary interests) and things unrelated to money such as the search and presence of meaning of life and desire to serve the public (non-pecuniary interests).

We collected relevant survey data from 1,021 Indonesian youths who were at the career contemplation stage from Surabaya, Semarang and Samarinda. We found that entrepreneurial passion was a central mechanism that helped bind together the conflicting pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests among people.

We found that entrepreneurial passion positively triggered the intention to be social entrepreneurs, while the desire for money and success negatively triggered it. We also found that seeking meaning in life and the desire to serve the public positively triggered entrepreneurial passion and the intention to be social entrepreneurs.

These findings collectively suggest that when we think of social entrepreneurship as either a struggle of public versus private interest or the contestation between pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests in entrepreneurship, we find that public interest and non-pecuniary interests to be key drivers in explaining why some people develop the intention to become social entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, money and success are not salient for youths.

In particular, entrepreneurial passion and their confidence in becoming entrepreneurs are central in the process. This means that any public policy efforts to stimulate young people’s intention to become social entrepreneurs can take note of the importance of passion – such as passion to solve certain social problems, passion about particular underprivileged groups, etc – in the selection of programmes.

Universities and schools that teach social entrepreneurship should not excessively focus on business subjects (eg, finance, business planning, market research) as this can be counterproductive to trigger the youths’ social entrepreneurial intentions. Rather, efforts can be focused on the search for one’s meaning in life, the desire to serve the public and a passion for developing organisations. Obviously, new, entertaining ways to narrate stories about social entrepreneurship via Instagram or TikTok – or even using comics to engage and stimulate our youths as contributors to society – could prove to be fruitful. — The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Yanto Chandra is an associate professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences and the director of the Centre for Social Policy and Social Entrepreneurship (CSPSE) at the The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Fandy Tjiptono is a senior lecturer at the School of Marketing and International Business at Victoria University of Wellington. Erica Lee of Hong Kong Baptist University and Andhy Setyawan of the University of Surabaya also contributed to the article.

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