Social Entrepreneurship, An Idea Who’s Time Has Come!

Whenever I leave my office I walk down two flights of stairs and then out the door. I always look to see if a colleague’s door is open as I walk out. If it is open, I always poke my head in. He says it doesn’t bother him, and I hope that is true. In these couple of minutes that we exchange comments, I am always encouraged. Yesterday was no exception. I discussed an article I read on Social Entrepreneurship (SE) from this week’s Economist, and how I heard about an anonymous donor who gave a substantial amount of money to help us start our new SE major, and he stated that the concept of SE is an idea who’s time has come. The idea has been around for several years, but I agree it is time to get serious.

I am convinced that by using entrepreneurial tools, we can create better communities and help people climb out of poverty. I am convinced that through the power of business we can increase social capital. However, it will take entrepreneurs who know how to manage resources, gain collaboration, and have the necessary drive for completing the task to create success. As I read, I am coming across more and more examples of how this is happening.

The Economist wrote recently about Social Entrepreneurship in India. The title of the article was “Cut from a different cloth.” The social need involved feminine hygiene, and the 300 million women in India who prefer “rags, dry leaves, straw, or newspapers” over sanitary pads. AC Neilson reports that “70% of women in India cannot afford sanitary products. Many who can pay do not, as they hate having to ask for them in drugstores that are usually run by men.”

Due to the enormous social and economic cost related to missed time at work, women dropping out of school, etc., Social Entrepreneurs “in many developing countries are attempting to discover a solution to this problem. Two of these entrepreneurs is Jaydeep Mandal and Sombodhi Ghosh of Aakar Innovations, a Delhi-based start-up. “They have developed a machine that produces low-cost sanitary napkins using as raw materials agri-waste such as banana fibre, bamboo, and water-hyacinth pulp. Each machine can churn out 1,600 -2,000 pads a day, to be sold for 40% less than branded mass-marketed products.”

Just this idea alone could have been considered a SE, but there is more to the story. “To bypass the current female-unfriendly distribution system, Aakar aims to sell its machines for 250,000 rupees ($4,000) a time to groups of women.” Then the women can manufacture and sell door to door their products. A very interesting idea, but another SE endeavor caught my eye this morning in the WSJ.

The article was entitled “The Atlanta Model for Reviving Poor Neighborhoods.” The East Lake Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia looked at the mixture of poor neighborhoods, crime, and low educational performance, and created a new way of raising neighborhood expectations. They accomplish this through using the human capital available within those “neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.”

For years charities and non-profits, as well as inefficient government activities have attempted to reform impoverished neighborhoods with mixed results. Now East Lake Foundation has found a way to change the low performing actions of a poverty stricken neighborhood into an almost crime free, economically balanced one, while producing the highest performing schools in the state of Georgia.

What did they do? First they focused on one neighborhood.  Next they worked with community and city leaders on every major issue at the same time: mixed-income housing, a cradle-to-college educational program, job readiness, and health and wellness opportunities.” They saw these issues as part of an overall system, and attacked the system holistically. I would add that community, government, and business stakeholders were brought together by the entrepreneur to create success. I hear the wonderful music in the background making me feel all emotionally happy, but what tells me this is successful?

Violent crime is down 90% in this community located in the Southeast Corner of Georgia. Crime overall is down 73%. “Employment among families on welfare has increased to 70% from 13% in 1995.” The article in this morning’s paper also describes the other 30% as elderly or disabled, or people currently in job training. “The income of these publically assisted families has more than quadrupled.” Home values have increased, new stores (including Walmart) have moved in, while restaurants and other services have returned to a neighborhood that even the police would not go into at one point in time.

Another factor involves education. “After negotiating with Atlanta Public Schools to secure the city’s first public charter, [they] built Charles R. Drew School. The K-8 school which opened in 2000, offered longer schools days and an extended school year. It now serves 90% of the children in East Lake neighborhood. Based on measures by the Georgia Department of Education, Drew is the top performing elementary school in the Atlanta school system.”

I could write about this all day. I could tell you that the East Lake Foundation bought surrounding property including a golf course, which will be where the final FedEx Cup playoff will be played next week. Or how children in the neighborhood are hired as caddies at the golf course, which supplies 179 new jobs for the community. But I think I have said enough. This SE endeavor demonstrates the power of entrepreneurship to create positive social change, which can give people hope for a better future.

The motto for our business department at Warner Pacific College is “Transforming our world through the power of business.” And this is what we intend to do, just like the examples above.

And that is my thought for the day!

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