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Social entrepreneurship is not charity

Social Entrepreneurship is not charity, damn it!

If you have read our post on "What is social entrepreneurship? An African perspective" then you know that the concept and many of its associated terms are mostly defined by institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom. Even though social entrepreneurship is practised widely on our continent, the definition of the term lacks prominent African contributions.


There is no reason for this to be the case. We have arrived in the 21st century and with the internet we have tools at our disposal where it is up to us to shape discussions, practices, worldviews and beliefs around a concept that has far-reaching consequences for the destiny of our continent.

It is about high-time that we start making our voices heard in discussions around social entrepreneurship to give it a more African perspective. In order to provide African solutions to African problems, we need to define ourselves what these solutions look like.

That is why we are excited to have Kofi Yeboah, an alumni of the Amani Institute in Kenya, sharing his views on what social entrepreneurship is NOT.  Drawing boundaries around an evolving, complex and often confusing term helps us to get a deeper understanding of what social entrepreneurship is.

Please enjoy this article and do not be shy to share your thoughts at the end of this post in the comments section below!

Social entrepreneurship has become a household name across many sectors.

Social Entrepreneurship Interest over time

Social Entrepreneurship Interest from 2004 till present Google Trends

The understanding of the term, however, and its principles differ from person to person. Many people and institutions tend to define their charity work as social entrepreneurship.

The definition of the term is quite simple: social entrepreneurship is using entrepreneurship (business) models or principles to solve social problems or create social change. The definition of social entrepreneurship drives on the same principles as social marketing, the latter is defined by Wikipedia as using marketing principles and techniques to influence target audience behaviours that will benefit society, as well as the individual.

Charity, on the other hand, is the act of giving money, food, or other kinds of help to people who are poor, sick etc . According to Wikipedia it is generally based on the religious concept of unlimited love and kindness. It is an act of goodwill and benevolence. It basically drives on personal virtues and humanitarian principles. The underlining or core principle here is to help people who are in need and not to solve a social problem.

Social entrepreneurship is not charity! #socent #socinn #Africa

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Many people believe that when you are rich or you have in excess you should give to the poor and needy or donate to a charitable organisation. More often than not, it is a means of securing a positive public reputation and has religious connotations.

I have come across many young people doing charity work, but claim the title social entrepreneurs and it makes me wonder whether the term is really understood by many or the word “social” attached to the term makes it have a different meaning. Let us try to find some realistic examples of social enterprises and social entrepreneurs that set it apart from charity work.

Solving the Problem of Access to Toilets in Ghana

In Ghana, many low-income people living in urban areas do not have access to clean and safe toilets. As a result, open defecation is on the increase. The problem is “how do we provide affordable and innovative toilets to low-income people living in the urban areas?

I worked with a social enterprise called Clean Team Ghana that is solving this problem by renting out free, human-centered designed toilets to people living in urban communities and charge a small subscription fee for the services they provide.

The services include the collection of waste (three times in a week) and provide toilet additive to mask the smell. Over 1000 toilets have been rented out to households and this is reducing open defecation in the communities they serve.

Clean Team Ghana does not operate as a charity. They do rent out the toilet for free, but they charge a small subscription fee for the services in order to recoup the operational cost to make the business sustainable. Donor funds make it possible for them to rent out the toilets for free.  There is, however, a business model aimed at users paying for the service fee.

Providing Updated Agricultural Information to farmers

Many farmers living in rural areas do not have access to updated agricultural information to help them plan when to plant to get the best harvest or when it is going to rain. Most of them rely on very archaic traditional systems to determine when it will rain by looking at the sky and checking how the clouds have formed.

To solve this uncertainty of when it will rain and other information pertaining to agriculture, Famerline, a Ghanaian owned social enterprise, developed a mobile technology to provide farmers with updated agricultural information on weather, fertiliser prices, etc.

These farmers receive the information on their mobiles after they have registered on the Famerline mobile platform at a fee. Farmers in Ghana now have access to updated information which makes it possible for them to make very good decisions of when to sow and any other information they might need.

Training Young Girls with Digital Skills

Mrs Regina Honu, a social entrepreneur, who co-founded Tech Needs for Girls provides digital skills training to young girls in Ghana. The aim is to break the myth around “tech is not for girls” and to help them create digital businesses of their own. The girls do not pay for this training, however, aside grants, Regina runs a business called Soronko Solutions that provides IT solutions to firms in Ghana and the revenue is used to sustain Tech Needs for Girls. She is using business principles to sustain her social initiative.

Solving the Issue of Fake Products

No one can leave out the disruptive innovator Bright Simons whenever we make mention of social entrepreneurship. Bright has developed a mobile technology that is able to detect whether a product is fake or genuine.

Bright’s company mPedigree, which developed the mobile technology called goldkeys, was able to solve the problem of fake medicine in the world. Goldkeys develops a 10-digit code which is printed on the medicine you buy, you scratch and text the 10 digits to a short code at no cost to you and you will receive a notification as to whether the product is fake or not.

Pharmaceuticals companies pay to use this mobile technology while Bright and his team solve the social problem of fake products in the market.

With such an understanding, we cannot call people who go on the streets to distribute food, water and other basic necessities to poor people on occasional basis as social entrepreneurs. That is charity work. Social entrepreneurship is a very complex sector to operate because you are working to sustain the company as well as creating social impact.

About the Author Kofi Yeboah

Kofi Yeboah has extensive corporate communications experience in the social enterprise sector. He has deep knowledge about developing marketing concepts and a thorough understanding of the lives of low income consumers. Kofi is an alumnus at the Amani Institute, Kenya – an institute that focuses on preparing next-generation talent to tackle global challenges by filling the gap between university and the workforce through a new approach focusing on social innovation. You can find out more about him here.

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