Social business

‘Innovation’ and ‘sustainability’ where the catchwords on November 25 – 26, 2013 when we explored the concepts of Social Business and Social Return On Investment (SROI).

During the training we unpacked the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘what is different’ of a social business approach. In such an approach, it is not shareholder value that comes first, but it is creating multiple values that are relevant for society at large (‘impact versus profits’) that counts. Social entrepreneurs work on the basis of ‘patient’ capital, not grants. Some call this ‘business for a common good’. Participants enjoyed the so-called ‘silly cow exercise’ during which they had to develop a business proposition on the basis of one cow. (Ideas ranged from biogas, to milk, from ploughing and breeding to cheese and cement.)

The growing interest in social entrepreneurship as an approach to transformative change processes may – in my opinion – be contributed to three, interrelated factors. Firstly, the financial recession in some parts of the world and the big crisis in the neo-liberal development model manifested by issues such as climate change, increasing hard core poverty in a number of countries and social exclusion. (This is what we called ‘the big development discourse’). Secondly, the crisis in the aid sector. The end of the post-war ‘traditional’ development cooperation is near: development theory is in a deadlock; development organisations are increasingly searching for their raison d’être; partnerships with organisations in low and middle income countries are under pressure; there are challenges in the field of result measurement and communication and budgets for international cooperation are decreasing. During the training, this was called ‘the small development discourse’. Thirdly, the successes that have been reached with an entrepreneurial approach to change processes, in countries where social entrepreneurs are active (e.g. Bangladesh, India, the UK).

During the session about SROI, attention was paid to the issue how to contribute monetary value to non-financial returns such as improved health and education.

My visit to Kleinmond also contributed to the institutional collaboration between Training for Transformation and Context, international cooperation. TfT, with among others it’s strong emphasis on experience based learning, with attention for both personal growth and societal issues and a holistic concept of development and strong connection with social organisations and movements in different parts of the world, remains an important source of inspiration and learning for all of us at Context international cooperation. I am therefore extremely happy that we decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for our future collaboration. We are grateful to Emotive which made my visit to TfT possible.

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By Fons van der Velden