Social Entrepreneurship – Changing mindsets to change a society
Drop into a restaurant in Thamel on a Friday evening and listen to some of the conversations. One does not need to eavesdrop. The conversations are so loud that you cannot miss it. These conversations will convince you that the best politicians, the best businessman and the best leaders are sitting right next to you. They seem to know exactly what needs to be done to solve the political situation of the country. They’ll talk about the most lucrative business that should be started if one wants to make money and they’ll talk about how the business must be run. Such is the effect of alcohol. It makes entrepreneurs out of normal people and very social ones at that. Stick around, and you might be offered a drink or two!
On a more serious note, Ashoka.org defines social entrepreneurs as individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. Just like business entrepreneurs who come up with new ideas that may change the face of a whole industry, social entrepreneurs change the face of the whole society. In other words, social entrepreneurs act as change agents for society. This is by no means an easy task as it involves changing people.
Every society is plagued by a disease called “change resistance”. A society is made up of people. Hence, this disease has its roots in the people itself. More precisely, this disease originates from the minds of the people. This whole scenario of changing people involves changing their mindsets and can be metaphorically related to glasses of water. What good is glass if it contains nothing? Similarly, what good is an empty mind? A glass containing stale water and filled to its rim is also no good at all as any freshwater that might be attempted to replace the stale water would overflow and go to waste. The minds of most people in society fall under this category. Their minds are so full of “out of date” knowledge that any new ideas don’t seem to enter their heads. Some glasses are empty and inverted. There is no way anyone can put any water in such glasses. Some people are like that. They are resistant to new ideas and changes. And there are some glasses with the right quantity of water, probably half-filled so that freshwater can mix with the water that was already there. In a society, it isn’t easy to find such mindsets; minds with a little bit of knowledge which can be used to contemplate and weigh new ideas and thoughts so that these ideas can be effectively implemented. The sad thing about such glasses (minds) is that most of them have a small crack so that no matter what comes in, eventually goes out. The good thing is that there are such half-filled glasses which do not have a crack. The main challenge for a social entrepreneur lies in identifying people with these mindsets and also trying to change people into developing these mindsets.
Social entrepreneurs see the whole society as a market segment and the basic needs of that society as a business opportunity. Take Florence Nightingale as an example. She established the first school for nurses and fought to improve hospital conditions. She is a classic and historical example of a social entrepreneur. But social entrepreneurship cannot be taken solely as a charity. Charity is social work. Social entrepreneurship is changing society by providing solutions to their problems and making money in the process. Relating charity with social entrepreneurship takes the “entrepreneurship” part out of it, and suddenly, the whole thing does not sound interesting or convincing. Perhaps Professor Muhammad Yunus would be a more fitting example of a social entrepreneur. He is the founder of Grameen Bank (Bangladesh). He is also the founder of the concept of microcredit, the extension of small loans to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. In 2006, Prof. Yunus and the bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Yunus)
Certain qualities make up a social entrepreneur. First of all, they have a vision; and secondly, they are committed, almost possessed, to articulate that vision. They come up with new ideas(solutions) to the problems the society is facing. These ideas are simple, understandable, ethical and user-friendly for others to grasp and to implement. As Bill Drayton, a social entrepreneur himself, says “Social entrepreneurs are not content to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.
Most people believe that societal needs are to be taken care of by the government, not-for-profit organizations or some business sectors. But social entrepreneurs believe in solving societal problems by creating a solution, marketing the solution and encouraging the people who make up the society to embrace the solution. This may require changing the entire system, and as discussed earlier, this is a major challenge. But social entrepreneurs do not stop at anything. Obstacles are always present. Overcoming them takes someone a little further. In a country like Nepal, people complain about the technology not being adequate, and we often hear them saying that Nepal is about a hundred years behind the developed countries in terms of technological development. But the point is that we can always leapfrog. So what if an American made computing easier by introducing Graphical User Interfaces like Windows. We, as Nepalese are privileged enough to use it. Using the technologies that are available (regardless of who invented it) we can actually be ahead of them in certain areas by using their technologies to implement our ideas. Saying that things cannot be done because Nepal is underdeveloped is just an excuse for not wanting to change things and not wanting to change ourselves. Saying that all Nepalese are like that is taking it one step further and generalising the problem to escape from it.
People in Nepal nowadays talk about a “New Nepal”. If this vision of a “New Nepal” is to be realized, then we, as Nepali citizens, must be willing to change ourselves and also change others. This is why Nepal now needs social entrepreneurs more than ever. We need change agents who can find simple, affordable and practical solutions to problems that our society has been facing. Changing our own mindsets by accepting change is the first step to changing Nepal and the first step to becoming a social entrepreneur.