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Social entrepreneurs change the way the world is working

After the marking of World Entrepreneurship Week this month the question that still remains is: “What does it take to make a truly great social entrepreneur?”

This is perhaps a key question to ask of the person who is commonly known as the godfather of social entrepreneurship, William “Bill” Drayton, named by News & World Report as one of the best 25 leaders in the US in 2005.

He was the man responsible for the global rise of the individuals we commonly know today as the “social entrepreneurs”. His definition of a social entrepreneur is someone who is driven by having their ideas and efforts change the society.

They are constantly looking for the next big idea that is important enough, innovative enough and ready for launch into a world that needs something that can genuinely change society for good.

South Africa needs people such as these, social entrepreneurs who want to make innovative contributions to solving many of the country’s challenges and creating a better place for all citizens to thrive in.

Social entrepreneurship is about talented energetic risk-takers who want to make a difference in the world through their ideas and their efforts, idealism that resonates particularly with today’s youth. Increasingly it is the millennial generation that is responding to the need to find big ideas that can change the society and is putting those ideas into action.

Social entrepreneurship is resonating particularly among millennials and the Y-generation because there is an increasingly greater need on their part to find a life that has meaning and significance, one that has the potential to make change happen and that leaves a legacy for the society to follow. This trend is perhaps not surprising as the single-biggest source of social optimism can often be found in young people who have the ideas, excitement, enthusiasm, passion and commitment needed to succeed in the world of social entrepreneurship.

In South Africa, the time has never been better to inspire and mobilise our youth into active citizenship, encouraging them to harness the power of their ideas and ideals and turn them into a force for good.

Indeed, it is a global trend that sees more and more young people turning to social entrepreneurship to find new models to existing problems, and to create new and tenacious business models and initiatives that can genuinely impact positively on the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Their primary focus is not on climbing the corporate ladder, or maximising profit for large uncaring conglomerates, but instead on maximising benefits for the society and the environment.

They focus their attention and energies on creating innovative business models that can address the need to find greater energy efficiencies, better education, solutions to waste management, health provision for all citizens, youth and rural development; all underpinned by a vision of achieving impact on a large scale.

In the spirit of South Africans leading by example, earlier this year the annual Social Entrepreneur of the Year awards, organised by the prestigious Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and held in Addis Ababa at the World Economic Forum on Africa, presented awards to five outstanding young social entrepreneurs from Africa. Two were South Africans.

The first, Paul Scott Matthew, was recognised for his work to address the alarming impact of HIV/Aids on truck drivers and other mobile workers.

His organisation, the North Star Alliance, provides much-needed sustainable access to high-quality health and safety services through a network of interlinked clinics known as “Roadside Wellness Centres”.

Since opening its first centre in 2005 in Malawi, the North Star network has grown to 24 centres in 10 countries.

The second award winner, Andrew Muir of the Wilderness Foundation, is an environmental activist, conservationist and community leader, who has dedicated his life to conservation and social development. The foundation has protected more than 200 000 hectares of wilderness and more than 100 000 disadvantaged youth have benefited from its educational and job programmes. The Wilderness Foundation also pioneered the Green Leaf Environmental Accreditation Standard, which certifies and monitors the environmental sustainability business practices of companies across Africa.

These pioneering social entrepreneurs illustrate powerfully the incredible social impact that dynamic individuals, with a passion to make the country and the world a better place, can achieve through their efforts and commitment. The emergence of a new generation of young social entrepreneurs represents immense hope for both South Africa and the continent as a whole.

South Africa’s young people can also take their inspiration from Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, and the founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

Commenting on the economic downturn affecting the world, he said: “This crisis teaches us that we need to refocus the economy on serving the society. It is these social entrepreneurs who show us the way to a sustainable future.”

Social entrepreneurs have as their primary focus the development and implementation of innovative approaches to the key challenges the world is facing and the maximisation of benefits for society. They operate social businesses or organisations that are a mixture of non-profitable concerns and profitable concerns, but the positive impact and legacy they leave is the same: ultimately, the society wins.

Over the past decade, the growth of social entrepreneurship has been exponential in many parts of the world and the time is ripe for the same to happen here in South Africa with the growth of a youth constituency that can change the society for good through their social entrepreneurial efforts.

Active citizenship is essential for the country’s growth and development and it can be driven by a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

They are beginning to see that change can happen and they can make it happen through their efforts, empowering every individual to determine his or her own future while at the same time improving the lives of others.

Miller Matola is the chief executive of Brand South Africa.

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