The entrepreneurs that put land, labour and capital together with their exceptional expertise for running a business can be considered the backbone of any economy. An economy needs not only consumers but also producers to let its cycle go smoothly. Successful entrepreneurs that produce a lot in the economy contribute towards the economic growth. Then, what about economic development?
Even though entrepreneurs can accelerate economic growth, which means an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another, they cannot assure of economic development, which means qualitative progress of the economy, improving life expectancy, living standards, creating employments and making sure the social and political welfare of the people in the country. That is where the social entrepreneur’s presence is a must.
Even if this seems to be a new concept to Sri Lanka, it is widely practiced all over the world. Social entrepreneur is a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change. Furthermore, this can be done in profit-making motive as well. How the social entrepreneur can be differentiated from a general entrepreneur is his focus not only on profits but also solving community-based problems.
No country can be developed by consumption only. It has to produce a lot. It is for that purpose that an economy needs entrepreneurs. However, there are things that a business entrepreneur may miss. That may be a positive impact on society, being different from the charity organisations.
Today’s businesses that are running a rat race to generate more profits than that of the last financial year, have introduced the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to give society something in return. Nevertheless, they cannot be called social enterprises as their objective is to earn profits rather than creating a social and environmental impact.
If it is a charity organisation dedicated for creating a better world for others, it needs to be fully funded by someone. Social enterprises are self-sustainable, meaning that they don’t become a burden on society to be funded because social enterprises are made to achieve both financial and social values. As mentioned above, charities are made to achieve social values.
Business enterprises are made to achieve financial values. Social enterprises are a combination of both. That’s why it can be called self-sufficient and self-sustainable. What we see at present is that the government allocates a large amount of funds for promoting entrepreneurship as well as for ensuring social well-being separately. A pride of place has been given to the entrepreneurs in the budget 2018 as well, being considered the backbone of the economy.
It doesn’t seem that the government has clearly identified social entrepreneurs. If they have, a huge amount of money that was divided into two major streams could have been put into social entrepreneurship, in order that social entrepreneurs will actively contribute towards the economy, having a positive impact on society and environment at once.
Areas to be covered
Even if it is true that social entrepreneurship can be connected with almost every aspect of society that is always stricken with hundreds of issues, certain areas, which are of course in dire need of social entrepreneurship, can be identified. When the garbage landslide in Meethotamulla was reported, it was discussed that public-private partnership was essential to seek sustainable solutions.
At the same time, some youth presented themselves with innovative ideas to turn trash into cash. These are actually social entrepreneurs that need financial assistance to go ahead. A youth in Gampola had invented a recycling machine, which separates iron, glass and plastic, so that they can be used for commercial purposes. Another man came up with an idea to make bricks out of garbage disposed from vehicles.
The Central Environment Authority (CEA) banned the use of polythene, lunch sheets, rigifoam boxes and shopping bags, as a part of its mission to properly manage solid waste in the country. This, in my opinion, is an area where social entrepreneurs can excel in revenue-generating, contributing to the national effort, if they wish to manufacture biologically degradable plastic and polythene or some eco-friendly products made with banana leaves.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has been a serious problem whereby the whole nation has suffered immensely. It has been revealed that water contained with harmful chemicals causes this deadly disease, which has already claimed hundreds of lives in the country. Sri Lankan homes still use imported water purification filters. It is up to social entrepreneurs to make more sophisticated water purification filter and make it available at cheaper prices, so that it can reach every household in the country.
AthPavura is a TV reality show telecast on ITN promoting social entrepreneurship among the public. Two major problems that any kind of entrepreneur has to face are how to find capital and knowledge. AthPavura has made itself a real platform for social entrepreneurs in dire need of capital for further expansion of their businesses. Finding the first capital is the hardest part for any start-ups. When you go to a bank, asking loans to start a business, be it a business enterprise or social enterprise, they will ask for collaterals. In fact, funding for start-ups is something highly risky.
On the other hand, even if they receive a bank loan, they are bound to settle the loan, irrespective of the profit or loss that their businesses generate. Hence, many social entrepreneurs with great innovative ideas give up their effort mainly due to the lack of capital, having economic and social impact very negatively.
Tuskers of the programme are currently comprised of co-founder Chandula Abeywickrema, veteran banker Rajendra Theagarajah, entrepreneurs Dulith Herath and Upul Daranagama, reputed chartered accountant Sujeewa Rajapaksa and few other investors.
They actually share the risk with these social entrepreneurs. Since they buy shares of these start-ups, they share the risk, being ready to incur even losses in the future. In other words, these social entrepreneurs have an opportunity to obtain capital as well as professional expertise so as to take their business to the unprecedented level.
Thamoda Karunaratne, a final year student studying entrepreneurship at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, recently participating in the programme, presented a production – a lunch box made with leaves, actually an alternative to polythene. She assured that youth leaving from orphanages will be employed for this venture. She was financially supported by an AthPavura investor, claiming for 10 percent ownership from the business.
Social entrepreneurship should be made popular among the public by financially assisting budding social entrepreneurs in the country. The government cannot and should not get involved in resolving every social issue. That’s why social entrepreneurs have to be further empowered, in order that they are able to solve even serious social problems, giving economic benefits to society. What is recommended is that the government ought to empower social entrepreneurs, in place of allocating funds for subsidies.
Empowering social entrepreneurs means letting the community an opportunity to come up with solutions for themselves. Thereafter, economic development, a broader target going beyond economic growth, can be achieved. Consequently, it can be called a silent economic revolution.
(Amila Muthukutti is an economist. His academic interests include economics, financial markets and business administration. He holds a BA in Economics from the University of Colombo and is currently reading for MA in Economics at the University of Kelaniya. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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