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Wrap up from Social Enterprise World Forum 2019: Day 1

And so it begins! The 2019 Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Ethiopia is finally here! SEWF is the leading forum for international exchange and collaboration in social entrepreneurship and social investment and with much anticipation and excitement.

Obviously I couldn’t attend every session and there will no doubt be talking points that I missed. If you were in attendance, please feel free to add your summary and thoughts in the comments section.

The day kicked off with a panel Chaired by Owen Dowsett from the British Council, exploring ‘Social enterprise and social entrepreneurship mapping’ with speakers Belinda Goldsmith from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Maeve Curtin from the Social Enterprise World Forum and Dan Gregory, from Social Enterprise UK.

Increasing numbers of social entrepreneurs all over the world are using business to help tackle social problems, however there is little data to point to which countries are encouraging this growing sector. To fill this void, the Thomson Reuters Foundation teamed up with Deutsche Bank’s CSR Made for Good global enterprise programme for social good, to conduct the first global experts’ poll on the best countries for social entrepreneurs in 2016, generating widespread discussion across the sector. This year they repeated the survey, with some surprising results.

The findings highlight areas of strength and weakness in the world’s 45 biggest economies – and how this has changed in the past three years. It’s important (and unfortunate) to note, that due to the focus being on the world’s 45 biggest economies, the research only included three African nations.

Australia (woohoo!) came second on the best countries for social entrepreneurs, seeing the biggest gain of 24 places from the inaugural poll in 2016. Canada was named the best country for business leaders seeking to tackle social problems in a global poll while the United States fell from top slot to 32nd place due to political uncertainty.

The 2019 poll also found most experts, 82%, said social entrepreneurship was gaining momentum in their countries – although this was down three percentage points from 2016.

An exciting research project currently in the works is a comprehensive database of individual country profiles being compiled by the Social Enterprise World Forum. Each profile will highlight the status of social entrepreneurship with a focus on need, demand and supply of services as well as on policy and regulations, financing opportunities, infrastructure and human capital, and information and networks. The project is due to be complete by SEWF 2020.

After lunch, Lauren Sears from Common Good Solutions (Canada) directed a panel discussion about social enterprises that are leading the way in tackling inequality. We had the pleasure of hearing from Bruktawit Tigabu from Whiz Kids Workshop (Ethiopia), Chris Richmond Nzi from Mygrants (Italy), Lord Victor Adebowale CBE from Turning Point/Social Enterprise UK (UK) and Sara Eklund, Noble Cup (Ethiopia).

The discussion covered the need for legislative change to counter short-termism in business and unfair tax practices, as well as the importance of developing an economic theory to back up the social enterprise movement. On this later point, Lord Victor Adebowale CBE emphasised the importance of brand management for the social enterprise movement.

“We need to spend less time on a definition and more on brand… We are in a battle for the human soul and to win we need to use media to broadcast a credible economic model.”

Lord Victor Adebowale CBE | Turning Point

According to Lord Adebowale, it’s “no good just talking to ourselves”. He stressed the need for a united, consistent language and approach, co-created with the people social enterprises are talking to – especially those who don’t understand social enterprise. It is in this way, according to Lord Adebowale, that social enterprises can make a stronger case to skeptics and reach critical mass. And his advice for anyone who wants to start a social enterprise? “Just do it” and don’t be afraid to ask for help and learn from others.

“Charity relies on kindness and that’s not equally distributed.”

Lord Victor Adebowale CBE | Turning Point

At the final session, attendees heard from a series of speakers about how they have realised the potential for social change for good through tech.

“The Ethiopian AI guru” Betelhem Dessie from Ethiopia, shared her passion for equipping the next generation of Ethiopians with the skills they need to take advantage of the country’s fast-growing tech industry and increasing investment opportunities. Betelhem’s work with iCog Labs – the first artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Ethiopia – sees her working on several projects to educates girls on the basics of coding and robotics and thereby increase their participation in the industry.

Regina Honu from Ghana shared her inspiring story of empowering women to learn and work in tech. Her journey started with Rocketman, Pac-Man and “a bit of coding experience”. Responding to the fact that only 3% of ICT graduates worldwide are women, her enterprise – Soronko Solutions – teaches girls to code. In doing, Regina aims to tackle gender inequality and prejudice around women and technology.

“With their new coding and digital skills they develop confidence, connect to scholarships for education and prove that girls are more than just brides.”

Regina Honu | Soronko Solutions

With two-thirds of all low-skilled jobs in developing countries on track to be lost to automation, Soronko is now “working to ensure that over 2 million Ghananian women and girls are in dignified and fulfilling work using digital skills and technology”.

Nikki Germany from Copia in Kenya, highlighted the importance of using appropriate technology and starting small. Copia, a Nairobi-based consumer goods catalogue and delivery service, brings the power of e-commerce to the middle and base of the economic pyramid, transforming this historically neglected market into empowered consumers.

Copia’s cost effective solution gives underserved consumers and their communities the choice, convenience and opportunity they deserve through a network of digitally-enabled Agents located close to their home. In just five years, Copia has processed over 3 million orders and is now one of the fastest growing enterprises in Kenya.

And that’s day one in a nutshell. What a day! We’re so happy to be here and can’t wait to give you an update on all we learn tomorrow.

Share this post on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and you’ll go into the draw to win some awesome African social enterprise goodies. Don’t forget to tag Social Change Central!

Jay Boolkin
Jay Boolkin

I'm passionate about positive social change and the power of social entrepreneurship to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. I believe that for-purpose business models can become part of the mainstream and I am enthusiastic about advocating for business models that are genuinely built around a social or environmental mission.


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