Who’s in the club?

First, the good news: These past two months of working in Kenya have made me realize that all of the theories and high-level discussion about poverty alleviation and social entrepreneurship really DO have applicability and relevance to the work happening on the ground.  The ubiquity of microfinance, the positive results of developing local enterprise, the visions of local entrepreneurs to uplift their communities are palpable, inspiring.  We ARE slowly moving away from the traditional foreign aid model that has created so much encumbering debt and dependence with forgone accountability.  

BoP1

Now, the bad news: Our ‘club’ is still small, exclusive and somewhat esoteric.  Certainly the message and learnings about social entrepreneurship  are spreading like wildfire in certain geographies — there is now no shortage of conferences, websites, wikis, blogs, forums on the topic.  But where is the actual BoP in these conferences and discussions?  How do we include our brothers and sisters in developing countries in this intellectual discourse?  Even more than that, why is it mostly just U.S. MBAs that are savvy and desired as employees in many social enterprises and social investment firms?

These are the exact notions that Ashni Mohnot discusses in her recent blog post on Pop! Tech.  

For example, C.K. Prahalad, one of the first to coin the idea of business strategy at the bottom of the pyramid, is speaking in Nairobi next week.  The ticket price for the event is 65,000 Kenyan shillings = $850 USD.  Already the majority of the population is priced out of participating in the event.

I’ve met with entrepreneurs here who are interesting in serving low-income communities through private sector approaches, but have no notion that Acumen Fund and other social investment firms exist, and don’t have access to any of the frameworks, ideas and methodologies regarding BoP strategy and social enterprise.  Why is that?  How do we bring them into this club?  This intellectual debate cannot proceed without inclusion of the marginalised consumers, producers and entrepreneurs we are supposedly setting out to support.

And until we find a way to do so, I don’t think the idea of poverty alleviation through enterprise can really acheive critical mass and challenge the behemoth institutions that continue to implement status quo paternalistic charity and aid techniques.

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One Response to Who’s in the club?

  1. cindy333 says:

    I had the exact same conversations at last year’s SOCAP conference. I was chatting with Sahba Sobhani, from the UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets initiative about the lack of representation of social entrepreneurs from developing countries. As a business school student saddled with loans, paying the high volunteer fee of $300 seems a lot — let alone the regular admission fee of $1200 for a 3-day conference! But these are the people that will most benefit from learning from other social entrepreneurs and talking to social investors because they are so close to what’s happening. A social entrepreneur trying to distribute health care services in Brazilian slums likely has many of the same pain points as an entrepreneur doing something related in Nairobi. Let’s not make this social capital space limited to people who are well-off and want to “feel good” about making a difference — we need to cut through the middle tiers of donors and investors and begin an honest dialogue directly with the people doing real work everyday.

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