The 4th Global Social Business Summit was held from November 8 to10 in Vienna. It was inaugurated by Queen Sofia of Spain. The conference is organised by Grameen Creative Lab (Germany) and Yunus Centre (Bangladesh).
The Summit is the leading forum for social business worldwide and brings together experts from corporations, civil society, governments and academia. It is reported that more than 600 experts from different backgrounds attended the Summit. Many young people are enthused with the concept because traditional institutions are failing them.
Relieved from the responsibility of managing director of Grameen Bank, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus has been able to invest more time and energy in popularising the social business concept, which has become an important component for capacity building in business as well as in employment.
This year, the focus will be on combining human creativity with the advantages of technological progress to foster innovative ideas for social business to serve society's most pressing needs. Companies such as Danone, Intel, Veolia Water, Renault and McCain shared their experiences in developing innovative technological solutions within the social business framework.
The conference was appropriately held in Vienna, as Europe has been suffering from debt crisis, high unemployment and dwindled income of all people. A clarion call for creating jobs is reverberating all across Europe, and social business could be the mechanism for creating jobs for the unemployed.
Social Business is an innovative concept because it is not a charity. It is a no-loss, no-dividend business enterprise with social objectives. Social business has to generate social gain and maximise social returns like patients treated, houses built, or health insurance extended to poor people.
The blending of business approaches within a philanthropic model to help the poor and disadvantaged section of the community is innovative. The philosophical underpinnings of such activities are based on creating a community based on social justice and human rights. German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) defined such type of activities as "natural rights."
For social business entrepreneurs, the prime motivation is the altruistic attitude. It implies spirit of benevolence, compassion and empathy. They operate in the realm of the heart and mind. Heart which feels for the people and the mind which thinks for and with the people.
Nobel Peace Laureate and human rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) once said: "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." This implies that the causes of begging are to be addressed through innovative interventions.
Social businesses may cover reduction of poverty and diseases, combating global warming, or any issues that create a minimum standard of living and quality of life necessary for human dignity. The investors can recoup their funds but may not take any profits.
What social entrepreneurs try to do is come up with ideas to solve a problem confronted by poor people. Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society's most pressing social problems. They offer new ideas for wide-scale change in thinking and action.
What sets social business entrepreneurs apart is that they have taken action to do something about it, namely, devise a solution for the need and follow through to take that solution to others through non-loss and non-profit businesses.
In other words, use of capital is focused on philanthropy, but with focus on development objectives. As a result, some charity foundations now carefully consider not just whether a project will benefit people, but whether it will achieve a greater impact than other potential social investments.
A charitable dollar can be used only once. A dollar invested in a self-sustaining social business is recycled endlessly. For example, you don't buy a fish for the poor but give a fishing rod to the poor to catch fish.
Social business entrepreneurs create new industries to meet the needs of the poor and disadvantaged people in the community. Social businesses are of two types:
-Businesses focused on social objectives. For example, Producing something for the benefit of the poor;
-Businesses owned by the poor who can receive benefits from investments. For example, a product produced by the poor but exported, with the net profit going to the poor.
The purpose of social business is solely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of a business, and no personal gain is desired by investors. Social objectives include health care for the poor, housing for the poor, financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water and introducing renewable energy for the poor.
Social business will have the following ingredients:
-Social objectives for helping the poor;
-Community ownership of social business: ownership by poor or disadvantaged community;
-Non-profit distribution: investors may not receive profits after invested amount is paid back.
Many universities around the world have been attracted to the idea of social business and have opened centres of social business within their campuses. Private think-tanks and academic institutions may encourage the idea of social business among the community by organising workshops and seminars. The role of the media is very important to popularise innovative social business in the community.
Social business is not confined to any particular country as it embraces all countries. The main focus is to create jobs and banish poverty from the planet. The concept is ground-breaking, the purpose is noble, and its fulfillment is the cherished goal. It is a tool for empowerment and harnessing the potential of young people.
I am confident that given the pool of innovative and imaginative social entrepreneurs in the country, social business will attract many of them and make Bangladesh a pioneer in the field of social business entrepreneurships to help poor and underprivileged in the country.
Next year's Social Business Summit will take place in Malaysia, followed by the sixth summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.