′Anchoring entrepreneurship in Africa′ | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 03.05.2017
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'Anchoring entrepreneurship in Africa'

Social entrepreneurs establish and run innovative businesses that benefit low income people. Members of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship from all over the world are currently meeting in Durban.

The students at Umlazi High School in Durban, South Africa, are dancing, they are singing and they are simply having fun. Nothing is keeping the audience in their seats anymore. They are cheering, singing and clapping along.

And in the middle of it is Precious Moloi-Motsepe, one of the richest women in South Africa, who founded the Motsepe Foundation together with her husband. The foundation supports social entrepreneurs. The Motsepes have put half of their fortune into the foundation. "There was a need to anchor entrepreneurship in Africa," says Moloi-Motsepe.

Less profit, more change

It's an idea that is also supported by the Geneva-based Schwab Foundation, which is why the two foundations work together in Africa. They have invited social entrepreneurs to Durban to attend the "Solutions Summit," being held from May 1 through 3, 2017. The topic is social innovation and business models, which are not purely profit-oriented but also have a positive impact on society. For three days, participants present projects, discuss solutions and listen.

"If we create conditions in which everybody is able to prosper, then the 21st century can truly be Africa's century," said one participant. Nine African social entrepreneurs are being honored with awards for their work.

Südafrika Solutions Summit in Durban (World Economic Forum/Christoph von Toggenburg)

Participants in the Solutions Summit in Durban out on a fact-finding mission

A global network for social entrepreneurs

During the past 10 years, the Schwab Foundation, whose board includes Hilde Schwab, Nobel Peace laureate Mohammad Yunus and other notable members, has designated 300 social entrepreneurs and established a global network. Similar to the much larger World Economic Forum in Geneva, which was founded by Schwab's husband Klaus Schwab, the focus is advice and the exchange of ideas. However, there is a much stronger focus on social change.

"My dream is that eventually our organization won't be needed anymore because everyone is a social entrepreneur. Because everyone will have understood that they need to work for the common good and not just for profit," Hilde Schwab told DW in an interview.

Access for everybody

They are people like Sonkita Conteh from Sierra Leone. As a teenager, he experienced the atrocities of the civil war in his home country. He speaks about it in a muted voice:

"I saw people killed in front of me, people were maimed, houses were burned, properties destroyed and it had a very telling effect on those of us who were there and me in particular. And I don't want to go through these kinds of horrors again. That is why I think the law could be a tool to prevent people from resorting to violence to solve their problems."

Sonkita Conteh became a lawyer and cofounder of Namati, an organization that provides legal advice to people. He proudly tells the story of how he helped a village in its fight against a mining company, which had contaminated the water in the vicinity of the village through neglicence.

Südafrika Solutions Summit in Durban (World Economic Forum/Benedikt von Loebell )

Sierra Leoni's Sonkita Conteh receiving his prize from Hilde Schwab

"My vision for Sierra Leone is that people are able to access justice and mechanisms that provide legal services, irrespective of their status."

Gisele Yitamben from Cameroon has a different mission. She wants women to be able to start companies and to have access to financing and organizes micro credits and training opportunities among other things. With her organization ASAFE (Association to support Entrepreneurship among women), she has already helped 20,000 women. She proudly says that government institutions would not have achieved that.

"Social entrepreneurship for Africa is very important because there are so many things that should have been done, which are not done. It is an opportunity to pinpoint what should be done."

A different kind of business

In Durban, the social entrepreneurs also discuss how they can make their business models sustainable. One factor is that the financing is sound. The business has to be economically viable because the point isn't to distribute donations. Ernest Darkoh, a social entrepreneur from South Africa puts it in a nutshell: "You need to be able to think about business in a very different way. It's not just about profit. It's about profit that benefits individuals, it's about business models that provide real value for people so that by them procuring these services you  can maintain and improve the services that wouldn't be provided otherwise and provide more of it for them."

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