From Innocence to a Political Future
The grand narrative of social entrepreneurship is everywhere: heroic individuals build innovative solutions to transform the texture of the world’s social fabric. What have we learned in a decade of emergent debate on the topic? What are the effects of a topic nobody, be it policy makers, professors, students, or parents, can avoid touching upon one way or another? A decade ago the topic was eclectically discussed, infusing small circles of dispersed professional communities such as development experts, nonprofit managers, and small elites of foundation visionaries and its beneficiaries. Today professional communities, career trajectories, and financial and political resources navigate around the topic.
Jack Sim is a funny man with a serious, yet unexpected mission: to revolutionize toilets for the base of the pyramid and to ensure worldwide sustainable sanitation. Often referred to as “Mr. Toilet” – a title he takes great pride in – he has worked tirelessly for fifteen years to make the availability of clean toilets a political priority and an economically feasible reality for the world’s ‘poor’. The need is big: 2.6 billion people currently lack access to a clean private toilet. When I met Jack Sim at a pre-WEF event at the HUB Zürich I couldn’t help but wonder about this curious man on stage. He was humming with energy, excited to share his story about the many issues concerning poop, making the audience laugh and yet providing relevant information about his cause.
When I met up with Mechai Viravaidya at his restaurant Cabbages and Condoms in Bangkok, he walked the grounds with an ease of familiarity, showing me elaborate sculptures, figurines and lamps all made out of colored condoms.
He posed for a picture next to one of his favorite decorations, a rendering of the Mona Lisa that offers a reason for her wry smile: two condoms tucked in her folded hands. The restaurant, an open-air courtyard flanked by lush plants, also features educational posters and interactive games such as a safe sex roulette wheel. The condom theme is not just a gimmick. Cabbages and Condoms is one of many social enterprises founded by Mr Viravaidya, a public health advocate and entrepreneur known for his compassion, commitment to health initiatives and rural development, and daring sense of humor. Mechai got his start in 1974 when he founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), aiming to slow Thailand’s rapid population growth and alleviate strain on resources and communities.
Of the 29 social enterprises represented, roughly one third earned less than 50 percent of their own revenue, with the figure in some cases as low as 15 percent. Can we expect all social enterprises working in difficult social and environmental areas to be financially self-reliant?
The lack of clear direction and conclusion at the Open Forum session on New Models for NGOs in the 21st Century perhaps represents the main crux of the problems facing NGOs today – an outdated focus on old structures that should be replaced by visioning for new models.
Today, one day before the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting commences here in the secluded Swiss mountain town of Davos, 29 selected social entrepreneurs are already meeting to imagine what the social enterprise sector will look like in 2030 before mingling during the rest of the week with over 2,500 other participants. (more…)
Would you like to rethink and critically reflect on the current state and future development of social entrepreneurship? Well, here is your opportunity: The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the Huffington Post and Student Reporter have teamed up to invite ten students to form a virtual team starting 1st of February 2013 for six months to contribute to Huffington Post’s Social Entrepreneurship section. Ideally, an inter-disciplinary team of students with strong disciplinary foci in sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, entrepreneurship studies, and political theory would form this team. We also welcome applications from social entrepreneurs. Candidates must be enrolled in an educational program such as BA, MA, MBA, or PhD. Each student reporter is expected to deliver four to five articles within the six months of collaboration. One article should adopt a critical op-ed perspective based on the disciplinary focus of the reporter.