The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur?

It might be wishful thinking, perhaps, but still is a concept worth some attention and thought. I don’t believe it is new in any way, I know there are social entrepreneurs all over the place. However, I’d like to elaborate on how the concept can be useful in my own domain – emergency response, emergency coordination, maritime search and rescue, conservation, and environmental protection.

Let us use my own backyard as an example – Uganda, East Africa. As many developing countries Uganda faces a multitude of challenges, as for example decreasing fish stocks in Lake Victoria. Fish export is an important industry, one of the mayor ones in the region. 2,5% of the Ugandan GPD comes from fisheries, representing a value at the landing sites of 800 MUSD. However, fish supply from Uganda’s water bodies is declining due to a number of factors, including overfishing, degradation of aquatic habitats and climate change, among others. This has created an aqua-culture hype in the country, of which more is to see in the coming years.

Enters the social entrepreneur… Lake Victoria lacks a safety network, not only due to absent rescue coordination, but also due to lack of dedicated resources (boats, helicopters) to perform search and rescue missions. This, together with a weak safety culture, leads to approximately 5000 lives annually lost by drowning on the lake, a figure used by the East African Community administrations such as Lake Victoria Basin Commission and Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization. What if the social entrepreneur, within a Not for Profit organizational structure and safety at sea as the core mission, engaged in aqua-culture? Out with the fundraising department begging for donor aid – in with the fish breeding department engaging commercially but within a humanitarian mission statement. The beauty of this specific scenario is that the commercial and the humanitarian activities overlap. The fish farm needs a boat to be managed, it furthermore needs people to attend to the growing fish, to feed and harvest. Add some advanced search and rescue training and you have a self-funding, revenue generating rescue station. Add some booms and skimmers and you have an environmental first responder. The potential profit generated by the not for profit organization is reinvested in more infrastructure, safety awareness campaigns, and more revenue generating mechanisms. And, alas, it also becomes an embedded part of the food security network. Did I mention it provides jobs, and skills, and becomes a platform for awareness training, and…, and…, and. The overlap and duality described above is nice but not a precondition. Anything that can be put to work, creating revenue for the benefit of the enterprise would be part of the game, be it a piece of land, a hot air balloon, a truck, an excavator – whatever.

As a Social Entrepreneur and a Not for Profit I don’t want to become dependent on donor aid and project money. I don’t want to be seen as a sandal wearing, tree-hugging do-gooder rattling the donation box, pleading for project funds for projects with a start, and an end date. What I do want from external actors are social investments, where the focus is on sustainability over time, to develop embedded commercial structures that produce collateral benefits for the people instead of profits for already wealthy individuals, money potentially ending up abroad. Give me a piece of equipment and I’ll put it to work for the greater good. Partner with me and I’ll make sure both you and the people I serve are taken care of. Invest in me and the return of investment will be counted in saved lives and social development (and even a bit of money if you’re a sneaky bastard and the budget allows). I’m the Social Entrepreneur, and it’s time to go commercial. // Mattias

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