Realizing the Potentials of Social Solutions

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By Shazeeb M Khairul Islam 

In the current emerging era of the world, social businesses are complementing organizations in the public, private, and donation-based social sectors. It is observed that these trends underpin a high potential for growth among the other similar hybrid models and concepts that use a couple of existing approaches like a conventional private company selling its products or services to make money for the investors or initiators; a government that creates institutions, law and organizations to serve the common people or a charity that works to maximize the social impact by improving lives.

Then again, the question remains – does this system really serve the greater good? The answer is no. A clear sense of purpose and meaning is increasingly important for the current generation of youth and young adults, which triggered the necessity of a newer economic model of impacting lives. Nobel peace prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus combined the two sides and gave us the model of social business – a cause driven, for profit, non-dividend business. Social businesses are created to solve human problems in a business way. A social business company needs to be sustainable financially while achieving its social objectives. The regulatory environment and capital markets are also becoming more amendable to the development of these businesses.

Ever since Professor Yunus’s Nobel victory, the social business concept has profoundly managed to become a widely accepted model, globally. Many nonprofits have begun exploring innovative ways of migrating towards these business models and generating revenues through their operations. A recent global entrepreneurship monitor study estimates that roughly 3-4% of the working population is involved in making the hybrid social models and enterprises become successful enough to be able to ensure set up of certain key services like effective healthcare centers for the bottom of the pyramid, solar appliances at offgrid areas, providing clean drinking water facilities for communities, and setting up quality education for economically disadvantaged people. Thus, creating a pool of economic opportunities for empowering the local youth and women entrepreneurs. With Professor Muhammad Yunus, Grameen, the pioneer of social business, has created many international joint venture social businesses with corporations like Danone, Violia, Intel, BASF, Uniqlo, Adidas etc. In just a short period of time many local corporates have also ventured into social businesses utilizing their CSR funds. Many of these joint ventures are already in break-even and are running self-sustainably. This gives us hope that conventional profit making businesses will realize the power of social business and play a huge role in the development of social businesses in the coming days. In 2017 we will see Watersprint AB, a clean drinking water solution provider from Sweden venturing into the industry in partnership with Yunus Centre, Grameen Telecom Trust and Social Business Youth Alliance- Global.

The Yunus Centre Social Business Design Lab is a meeting place for the people of diverse backgrounds, with the sole purpose/goal of developing into social business for the betterment of society. It has facilitated partnerships and funding for more than 10,000 new entrepreneurial projects in the last three years. This proves that new ideas are getting vastly encouraged by existing social business funds like the Grameen Telecom Trust driving young people to come up with innovative social business ventures which leads to the creation of multifaceted employment opportunities and solves many social challenges. Along with such programs, we also have one of the leading social business plan competitions of the country, the ‘Social Business Champ’, that has attracted more than thousands of students/young adults every year leading to a rise of social business ideas which can possibly be implemented in the coming years.

Globally there are more than 25 social business centers dedicated to undertake interdisciplinary research on social business which helps entrepreneurs, ecosystem designers, academicians and students to learn and build social businesses. We have seen many academic institutions in Bangladesh opening up social business research centers and offering academic programs of social business like Daffodil University, Eastern University, ULAB etc. These centers will play a key role in developing local, national and international industry relationships through dedicated programs of training and education on social business.

Development organizations and foreign aid agencies have acted as catalysts for the economic development of our country. They have done it mostly through aid programs but now-a-days we see a huge shift in their work while they promote and support sustainable businesses, impact investment and social innovations that are blended with a business model. Last year we have seen international accelerators like Spark* opening up their Bangladesh chapters to support entrepreneurs who contribute in changing lives with mentorship, funding, strategy, creative and legal support. This network development is to be a progressive and continuing platform for the coming days and can be accessed by all social businesses. Very recently the Blue Gold Program with financial support from the Government of Netherlands has initiated their Blue Gold Innovation Challenge in collaboration with YY Goshti, as the country’s first independent social business incubator to contrive social businesses in south west of Bangladesh addressing water resource management and agricultural development.

“Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations.” Professor Muhammad Yunus describes the vision of social business this way. It is also the vision of Sustainable Development Goals with the ultimate aim of creating a world without poverty. The social business activists worldwide believes that social businesses can play a huge role in the achievement of SDG’s. Many social business ventures are being created addressing specific SDGS. Like YC Watersprint, a social business ensuring clean drinking water for all addresses SDG no 6. Existing social business ventures and funds are also creating many program arms and ventures to address other SDGs.
Youth groups like, Social Business Youth Alliance- Global ensures a platform for the youth where they come to listen to the role models, learn from their experiences and successful Social Business ventures and the start their own initiative to solve a social problem and then lead through Social Business. Development of social business in the coming years depends on the power of young people and technology. Today’s youth needs to exploit the opportunities that the market offers, utilize the power of technology and solve human problems to create a poverty free Bangladesh and world.

Shazeeb M Khairul Islam
The writer is the Founder & President of Social Business Youth Alliance – Global and the CEO of Spark* Bangladesh.

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