When thinking about internationalising social enterprise, it doesn’t get much more international than the Social Enterprise World Forum. This year over 1300 delegates from over 70 different countries gathered in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. It was the first time the forum had been held in a low-income country, and it gave a very different angle on the nature of social enterprise.
For example, on a continent where youth unemployment can reach 40%, and where the growing population needs to create 1.2 million new jobs every month, is job creation itself a social impact? And if so, what makes social enterprises different from a private-profit business?
Mark Richardson, from Social Impact Consulting, represented INTSENSE at the Social Enterprise World Forum again this year, speaking to people from all over the world about the potential for internationalising social enterprise.
Mark said, “The biggest potential I see for internationalising social enterprise, is in sharing successful models from one country to another. There are so many brilliant examples of social enterprises tackling social and environmental problems in their own country, while the country next door has exactly the same problem, but no solution.”
One example is Clean Team in Ghana, which provides portable toilets for very low income households in slum areas in Ghana. This not only improves health and hygiene, it also reduces the risk of women and children being attacked in over-used public toilets. Having come across the concept in Ghana, Mark introduced the idea to a group in Sudan who are now working with Clean Team to introduce the model there.
Another example from Ghana is Pride Sanitary Pads. Across Africa, many girls miss school, or even drop out altogether, as a result of their monthly period. One of the major causes of this gender inequality is the availability and affordability of menstrual pads, particularly in rural areas. Many girls resort to using unclean rags or newspaper to manage their flow, leading to infections and other health complications.
Pride Sanitary Pads are locally produced sanitary products made from banana fibre, local cotton and paper pulp, and are fully biodegradable. Pride also provide education about menstrual hygiene and are working to dispel the harmful stigmas surrounding female menstruation.
Mark introduced this concept at a social enterprise conference in Sudan, and a women’s NGO are now working with Pride to develop the same model in their country.
This cross-border learning can occur across many borders, not just internationally but between cities and regions. Mark says, “It’s always worth taking some time to look at what other social enterprises are doing to solve the problems you’re trying to tackle. It may be they have a model that would work where you operate, or you may have learning you could share with them.”
Neil McLean, CEO of the Social Enterprise Academy who was speaking at the Social Enterprise World Forum, said they decided to expand their work from Scotland into other countries because someone once told him “If you’re doing something good, you have a duty to share it.” Neil was joined at the Forum by representatives from their hubs in Australia, South Africa, Kenya, and Rwanda. And this month saw the launch of their newest hub, Social Enterprise Academy Wales.
So if you’re running a social enterprise, maybe you need to ask yourself, “Are you doing something good that you should be sharing?” Or, “Is someone else doing something good that you could be delivering too?”