Advice for Social Entrepreneurs: Part 1

Following the results of the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey on the best countries to be a social entrepreneur, we sat down with Development3 founder Akash Ghai to discuss the challenges that social entrepreneurs everywhere need to be aware of and how to approach them.

Q: New technologies continue to grow exponentially, becoming cheaper and more accessible; and have the potential to empower even the most marginalized communities around the world. However, well-documented obstacles still exist, including governments being slow to adopt and enact policy; and social and cultural norms inhibiting the speed of change and undermining the effort to improve people’s lives. Where do social entrepreneurs fit into all of this? Can they be catalysts for change and if so then in what way? How might they help to connect the dots?

A: Technology is an asset that social entrepreneurs will need to utilize if they’re to become catalysts for change; and indeed they can be. Take for example a social entrepreneur based in a rural village in Central Africa that now has the ability to freely connect with people all over the world through a smartphone. The opportunity to collaborate, exchange and form new ideas, practices and experiences can lead to very real, positive results which can be implemented at a grass-roots level. Develop and multiply this practice and very soon you will get the attention from local, national and international stakeholders and the ability to influence both governments and cultural norms.

Q: Does the report on where is best to be a social entrepreneur hold relevance in a world that is getting smaller in terms of global markets, international development and advancing technologies? What can social entrepreneurs take away from it?

A: If you know which countries are best positioned to help support your endeavors as a social entrepreneur then that information can only serve your decision-making. But what would be even more interesting is to see the developing countries outside of the 45 identified in the study that have the potential to become the best environments for social entrepreneurs to flourish over the next twenty years.

Social investment has already become commonplace. The changing demographic of the everyday investor is influencing how businesses conduct themselves. There are many recent examples of businesses that didn’t act responsibly or ethically towards an affected group – local communities, customers, employees – and have lost out on revenue, market share, investment – even failed as a result. Social entrepreneurs should be aware of this change and position themselves to facilitate social investment.

Q: In contrast to what the report covers, what internal challenges do social entrepreneurs need to be aware of? What’s more important, where you’re from or whether you have the characteristics to succeed?

A: Understanding your target market and getting a sense of what you can realistically offer, are both crucially important to understand in business. For a budding entrepreneur, getting to know what your day-to-day work will consist of is also important. The ideation is a mix of building a business to generate income – looking at the demands of the market, securing seed funding and the growing pains associated with starting a business – while also designing and continuously looking at your strategy to address the social question you ultimately aim to put right.

Putting on both hats – business and social-development – has a unique set of challenges that isn’t for everyone. At times you can be pulled in both directions, which can lead to oversights. Having mentors and advisors with experience in your  field; and building a team that understands your mission means having right people around you that will determine and support your ability to make an impact.


In part 2 of this article we will look at scenarios that social entrepreneurs might be faced with. Coming soon.

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