Social entrepreneurship could lift economies out of Covid-19 slump

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Many masters and PhD students have a poor relationship with their supervisors.

What you need to know:

  • Social entrepreneurs are standing out and are showing us how to innovate sustainable and scalable solutions while also addressing underlying systemic imbalances for the better good of all.
  • Institutions of higher learning should adopt social entrepreneurs' education.

A while back, a netizen tweeted that she cannot believe that she spent time in school learning how to write a telegram even though they are no longer in use. But no one ever taught her how to calculate her taxes.

She is not alone, every once in a while, a similar tweet pops up from a Kenyan on Twitter (KOT).

Employers also hold this view. Kenyan graduates are considered book smart but not prepared for the job market.

A number of governments have started tackling this issue by embarking on curriculum reviews. This couldn't have happened at a better time than now when Covid-19 is devastating key sectors of the economy.

It will require innovative thinking and business models that not only target profit but also bring about changes that accelerate the pace of development in communities to climb out of the current financial turbulence.

Social entrepreneurship is emerging as one of the models that can achieve this fastest, and it is our firm belief that better alternatives are yet to be developed.

The shift towards social innovation

Social entrepreneurs or innovators are individuals who come up with business innovations that seek to provide solutions to challenges that affect people, whether social, cultural, or environmental.

While the narrative of "new normal" during this Covid-19 pandemic has been gaining traction, it is not lost to us that this new normal has been with us for some time now.

The disease crisis has taught us that moving forward, innovation around social problems is going to be pressing more than ever. We need to be prepared for more complex social challenges.

We have all witnessed the quicksand nature of the "business as usual' approach in these times of accelerated change and disruptions. During this unfortunate season, sectors that have been hard hit are those that did not prioritize innovation; their survival is threatened.

As a result, organisations and companies, going forward, will have to find people with skills and capacity to respond to emerging challenges with precision and agility. Social innovation or changemaker skills are becoming the most sought skills for this 'new normal'.

Taking a closer look, social entrepreneurs are standing out and are showing us how to innovate sustainable and scalable solutions while also addressing underlying systemic imbalances for the better good of all.

This group of innovative, creative and entrepreneurial problem solvers, who are gradually becoming more popular, have in many ways during this pandemic, showed us that there is a great future in the sector as an engine for social transformation.

These unsung heroes have been in action finding coping solutions for our health systems, agriculture value chain, technological demands and economic imbalances carefully helping us manage this season.

They are offering funding solutions to small businesses who are afraid of credit institutions; they are revolutionizing access to power in rural areas through solar technology; they are providing solutions to farmers in arid areas; they are bringing technology education to their communities and so much more. 

They have helped, and are still helping leaders across sectors realize that there is an urgency for a new conceptual framework that will accelerate our preparedness for shifts occasioned by crisis, disasters or mutating long-standing challenges.

Growing the field

To expand the impact of social enterprises, improve collaboration and find more innovative solutions to crises such as Covid-19, there is a need for more investment into the field. Investment opportunities include developing our pipeline of social innovators.

The first area of investment can be in the identification of the most innovative, scalable solutions and supporting them to increase their impact.

The second is creating platforms and spaces where these social entrepreneurs can meet to learn and share experiences from different sectors about new tools, approaches to becoming resilient, pathways to systems change, explore opportunities for more policy changes and financial investment to grow the field.

The third area is in the training of more social innovators and entrepreneurs. Institutions of higher learning should adopt the social entrepreneurs' education.

This means taking a social problem and posing it to learners with the aim of turning it around to become a viable solution. The dominant education approach should shift from classroom focus to being a community centred where students take their learning to communities and use their skills to provide innovative solutions.

Higher education

It's undeniable that academic institutions play a pivotal role in the development of the human capital that every generation needs to address emerging challenges, and should be at the forefront leading the necessary paradigm shifts.

They are the fulcrum on which social and economic transformation or revolution spins, but only if their priority in teaching and learning focuses on developing the capacity of learners to tackle current, real-life challenges while forecasting future ones.

Academic institutions that will thrive and make a difference in the world today are those that are led by individuals who are able to create a culture of innovation and adaptation as is being modelled by social entrepreneurs.

To get it right, universities need to become environments that not only produce innovative change agents, but that also foster the partnerships, research and networks they need to build thriving businesses that profoundly impact their societies.

This is the intent behind the Africa Annual Conference on Social Entrepreneurship (AACOSE), Africa's foremost gathering on social entrepreneurs.

Mr Odhiambo is the Regional Director for Ashoka in East Africa and Mr Dzinekou is the Director of Institute for Social Transformation (IST) at Tangaza University College.