What problem are you addressing? Why should people care?
I hate buzzwords, so it’s ironic that one of the main goals of my social enterprise, Invest2Innovate, is to “cultivate the social entrepreneurship ecosystem” in untapped markets.
But sometimes using these terms is both relevant and necessary. In 2008, Paul N. Bloom and J. Gregory Dees wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “To create significant and long-lasting changes, social entrepreneurs must understand and often alter the social system that creates and sustains the problems in the first place. This social system includes all of the actors – the friends, foes, competitors, and even the innocent bystanders – party to the problem, as well as the larger environment – the laws, policies, social norms, demographic trends, and cultural institutions – within which the actors play.”
This ecosystem is not unlike those we studied in biology class in high school. As the aforementioned authors noted, biologists long ago understood the limits of studying living organizations in isolation, and could gain a much deeper understanding “only by considering the complicated relationships between organisms in environments.” Much like the biological ecosystem, a social entrepreneur may not have the social or environmental impact they desire without a broader ecosystem in the markets where they work. In India, Latin America, and East Africa, innovation and social entrepreneurship have flourished in part due to these relatively well-developed ecosystems – small and growing businesses have had access to capital, technical assistance, mentors, and local networks. It is by no means fully developed or perfect, but it is an interesting case study of how to cultivate these environments for the growth and success of social enterprise.
I started my organization, Invest2Innovate (i2i), in order to take this ecosystem approach into the untapped markets for social entrepreneurship. We are a global social enterprise that matches investors and funders with social entrepreneurs focused on building sustainable enterprises, cultivating the local, regional, and global partnerships and collaborations necessary to grow this space. We officially launch i2i this September (a day before SOCAP), beginning our pilot in Pakistan with the aim to scale in the next three years.
Yes, Pakistan, a country more known in the news for security-related volatility and political angst than opportunity and innovation. But as much as the news depicts this polarized perspective of Pakistan, there is also potential for change. Monis Rahman, the founder of Rozee.Pk, the largest jobs website in the country, recently told Forbes, “You tend to hear the worst 5% of the Pakistan story 95% of the time. There’s a perception arbitrage, and it’s providing a window of opportunity for entrepreneurs.” In Pakistan, 66% of the population lives on under $2 a day, despite years of foreign aid that has been injected into the country. Social enterprise, which provides services and opportunities to the poor, not handouts, can offer this much-needed change. Invest2Innovate, in our tailored support for these entrepreneurs, will help to maximize their impact in these communities and make them more viable investments. But we also will develop the ecosystem around these agents for change, understanding that truly local and organic approaches to this growth can ultimately help entrepreneurs succeed and in turn truly pull communities out of poverty. In this type of approach, we believe true change comes from within, and that is something worth caring about.