Why I Believe Social Enterprise can Provide a Model for True Sustainable Development
April 4, 2014 | 2479 views
Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information. We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.
Learn more about the 2014 Skoll World Forum, sign up to our newsletter to be notified of the live stream, view the 2014 delegate roster and discover what themes and ideas we'll be covering this year at the event. Also, read about the seven recipients of this year's Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Despite huge effort over decades to address the chronic issues of development in rural Africa by charities, the private sector and for-profit organizations, people in developing countries still lack access to the most basic services. This is no surprise. In areas of market failure, where there is no profit yet to be made, for-profit organizations can’t operate. At the same time the public sector often lacks the expertise to run certain services, and has to operate on a restricted budget.
But this is where social enterprise can bridge the gap. They are showing that organizations that share a bottom line that is financial, social and environmental can have a transformative impact. They can use the financial discipline of business, while taking risks, freed from the need to make profit. It means social enterprise can make their skills and expertise available to the public sector, allowing them to deliver social benefits to their population.
In my view there are two reasons why social enterprises are able to create that change. The first is the equal focus social entrepreneurs place on good finance, strong systems and making money work effectively as they achieve social impact. The second is the importance of cooperation and partnership to social entrepreneurs.
In recent months Riders for Health’s programme in The Gambia has provided two examples that illustrate these two strands. The first is the success of our work with the ministry of health in developing a unique leasing model for their health care vehicles. The second is our partnership with our fellow Skoll Foundation members, Gram Vikas.
Since 2009 Riders for Health has been partnering with the ministry of health to manage all of the vehicles in their health fleet. We have been managing 153 motorcycles, ambulances and trekking vehicles that cover the entire country. We have established workshops throughout the country to provide maintenance to every vehicle so that it continues to run without problems. Since that programme launched, those 153 vehicles have travelled over 10 million kilometres without a breakdown and health care has been transformed.
This means that 1.5 million people in The Gambia have access to health care. It means that health workers can see four times as many people, and it means that not a single vaccination clinic has been cancelled because of a lack of transport.
This is a huge achievement and it is one that I am proud of, but the only way that it has been possible is because we have worked hand in hand with the ministry of health, and because the programme has been built on solid finances. In Riders’ programme the ministry pays for the service we provide on a not-for-profit basis. It relies on their commitment, and because they know that they are in control, and that the programme is not dependent on charitable donations or donor aid, the service will not be withdrawn while they want and need it.
The Gambian ministry of health has now committed to continuing the service for five more years, ensuring the sustainability of the programme. It is a risk that only a social enterprise could have made.
Without the partnership between Riders for Health and the ministry of health and the private sector bank who provided the initial capital funding for the project, this work in The Gambia would not be possible. But it is now showing that social enterprise is the perfect vehicle to bridge this gap between public and private, and for delivering development goals.
The second area that sets social enterprises apart is their willingness to work together to achieve a common objective, by maintaining a single focus they are able to bring together these disparate skills to create social benefit.
In January, Riders for Health and our fellow Skoll Foundation social entrepreneurs, Gram Vikas, celebrated the completion of a new project in The Gambia that has improved water and sanitation in one area of the country.
Gram Vikas approached Riders to help them to create a project in The Gambia. They had experience of creating transformative programmes in India, but had not worked in Africa before. Because our team in The Gambia is led and staffed by local people it means that we are able to provide expert local knowledge of communities and helped to select a community where this project was needed and where it could be supported.
We helped to create the local committee of 12 people, made up of six men and six women, who would be responsible for the running and maintenance of the sanitation system, and who would be responsible for collecting payments and managing the accounts. Without this local knowledge it would have been impossible to establish this community project in a sustainable and lasting way.
But it was Riders experience as an international organisation that meant we were able to facilitate the importing of materials to The Gambia successfully, and ensure that reliable transport was available to deliver the materials to the places where they were needed at the right time.
Gram Vikas’s expertise in building and creating community sanitation and water systems in rural areas means that 650 people in The Gambia now have running water for the first time. It means women no longer have to walk for an hour to collect water. It means that each house as a clean toilet.
But this project would never have happened without the cooperation of two organizations, and with the collaboration of the government of The Gambia.
On 9 April hundreds of social entrepreneurs will meet in Oxford for the Skoll World Forum. This is the eighth forum that I will be attending. I continue to be amazed and inspired when I meet people and hear about the work that they do. People work in almost every area of development and social improvement.
They work in health, education, sanitation, human rights, environmental sustainability, and a hundred more. Their models differ and no two social enterprises work in precisely the same way, but we are helping to shape the definition of an approach that will change the world. We are testing new methods for working and learning from each other and adapting approaches to fit our goals.
But the one thing that ties us all together is our belief in social enterprise and its ability to sustainably transform lives around the world for ever.