The Future of Social Entrepreneurship

As 2012 approaches its final month and President Obama is elected for another 4 year term, it is only natural that many people are contemplating the future and what it will bring. For those involved in social entrepreneurship and impact investing, the big question is “what does the future hold for the emerging field of social business?” Last week marked the 5th annual Global Entrepreneurship Week, a UK based initiative to promote entrepreneurship. The campaign had a presence in 115 countries and got people thinking about the future of social entrepreneurship. The month of November will end with Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka and the man responsible for the term “social entrepreneur”, giving his predictions on the future of social entrepreneurship in an interview with David Bornstein.

In anticipation of Drayton’s predictions, many in the field of social business have taken it upon themselves to make their own predictions. In a recent article in Forbes, Eli Malinsky, executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation, got the ball rolling by publishing his own predictions and started a conversation on twitter #FutureSocEnt. In the spirit of making predictions and speculating about the future, here are 4 of mine:

1. Widespread emergence of MicroConsignment Models (MCM): Microfinance and Microcredit have become widely used models of financial development and have inspired similar models such as that of MicroConsignment. Under this model, strategic partner organizations employ and train local entrepreneurs to sell health-care related goods and services (eye-glasses, water filters, cook stoves, solar lamps, etc.) to rural communities using a consignment mechanism (the partner organization covers the overhead costs and the local entrepreneurs “borrow” the products until they are sold). The MCM was developed less than a decade ago in Guatemala by Greg Van Kirk. His company is known throughout the country as Soluciones Comunitarias and has proven to be scalable, replicable, and sustainable. There are a number of social entrepreneurs in the process of replicating the MCM model in a variety of health-care and technology related endeavors.

2. Impact assessment will become more formal and more important. As the competition grows between social entrepreneurs, impact investors will have many more options. These investors will become more critical and will demand transparency. As a result, formal assessments, ratings reports, and certifications will become the norm. The emerging leader in this field of analytics is B Lab, a non-profit that supports GIIRS ratings and B Corp certifications.

3. Hybrid Value Chains will grow in size and complexity. Gregory Dees, founding faculty director of CASE, defines these chains as “partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations that help make markets for products that help the environment or serve the poorest of the poor in a constructive way” [1]. Instead of maintaining the traditional separation between non-profit, for-profit, and governmental organizations, I believe all sectors will collaborate and work together by pooling resources and utilizing a variety of talents to achieve common goals. Hybrid Value Chains are starting to emerge around the world and I predict they will grow and become more integrated and complicated as they work to solve increasingly complex social and environmental issues.

4. Growth and reliance on accelerator programs. Agora PartnershipsVillage Capital, and the Unreasonable Institute run some of the largest and most well-known accelerator programs in which early-stage social entrepreneurship gain business development assistance and access to established networks of impact investors. As the field of social entrepreneurship expands and competition grows, impact investors will become more picky about where they place their investments. The accelerator programs mentioned above are very selective and ensure quality from the entrepreneurs who undergo their programs. I predict that as the graduates of these programs build successful business, impact investors will become more likely to enter these networks and focus their investments only on companies who have gone through accelerator programs.

As you come up with your own predictions for the future of social entrepreneurship, ask yourself: “What would the world look like if all entrepreneurs were social entrepreneurs?” [2]





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