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A New Approach: Social Entrepreneurship

By Erdin Beshimov

Chances are about every country in the world has proverbial variations on the saying that it's better to teach the hungry to feed themselves than to simply give them food. The emerging industry of social entrepreneurship is taking this proverb to heart.

For years the international development industry has been going either big or small.  On the one hand, there were big infrastructural and financial projects.  Such projects funded the building roads, damns, and telecom stations, or provided developing countries with financial resources at times of need or crisis.  On the other hand, there were smaller microfinance projects that provided people in developing countries with funds for subsistence of their farms or other small businesses that they had. 

Today, we see the emergence of a different trend in international development.  Rather than going big or small, some organizations advocate going in the middle by assisting citizens in developing countries in building their own successful and self-sustainable businesses.  What is needed here is sharing entrepreneurial and business knowledge and skills and providing entrepreneurs in developing countries with start-up funds.   The entrepreneurs will take it from there. 

This approach has come to be known as social entrepreneurship and rapidly became a trendy - and most importantly, effective - way to address global poverty.  A number of social entrepreneurship organizations have achieved remarkable results with this philosophy and are leading the way in enabling poverty-stricken populations with self-sufficient ways to promote prosperity. 


Endeavor supports emerging-market entrepreneurs through a rigorous process of selection and guidance.  Every-six months Endeavor scouts the world for potentially high-impact ventures by entrepreneurs in developing countries.  Endeavor then supports selected entrepreneurs with specialized programs in business plan and strategy development, personalized mentoring, management workshops, and networking.  This model turned Endeavor into a bright success.  To-date, 25,583 jobs have been created by Endeavor entrepreneurs and Endeavor entrepreneurs generated $839 million in revenue in 2004 alone.  


Established by a highly regarded change-maker Bill Drayton, Ashoka envisions a world where everyone is a change-maker and promotes a three-tier strategy to the success of this vision.  Ashoka (1) supports social entrepreneurs across the world and helps them succeed, (2) builds networks of entrepreneurs and develops patterns of effective collaboration.  In addition, Ashoka (3) provides social entrepreneurs with access to social finances and bridges them to business and academic sectors. 

Acumen Fund

Created in 2001 with seed capital from the Cisco Systems Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and three individual philanthropists, the Acumen Fund is a global non-profit venture fund using entrepreneurial approaches to address global poverty.  The Acumen Fund works to build financially sustainable and scalable organizations that deliver affordable, critical goods and services to the betterment of the lives of the poor.  Through the work of the fund, 5 million Tanzanians have been protected from malaria, 3,500 Pakistani squatters housed in secure communities, and 7,000 Indian farmers gained access to irrigation. 


Founded in 1968 by Connecticut businessman Ed Bullard, TechnoServe identifies entrepreneurs in emerging markets and develops them through training, mentoring and networking.  TechnoServe also provides access for entrepreneurs to relevant and applicable market information.  It guides entrepreneurs in the process of building managerial capacity, developing business plans, raising financing and penetrating markets.  This comprehensive guidance helped TechnoServe beneficiaries generate nearly $50 million in sales in 2005, $6 million in employee wages, and $34 million in farmer revenues.   

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