When Fishing Isn’t Enough: Solving Social Problems through Entrepreneurship

Posted: December 18, 2011 by Brett Smith in Social Entrepreneurship, Social Media

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” However, teaching a man to fish may not be enough. Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, suggests, “Social entrepreneurs are not content until they revolutionize the fishing industry.” This statement raises at least three questions. What is a social entrepreneur? What does it mean to revolutionize the fishing industry? And finally, how is social entrepreneurship expanding in Cincinnati?

Defining Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship can be defined broadly as developing innovative solutions to persistent social problems. In this way, social entrepreneurship borrows the creativity and imagination from entrepreneurship, but applies it to address social problems such as hunger or poverty. According to Greg Dees at Duke University, “a social entrepreneur is of the genus entrepreneur and the species social.” In this way, an entrepreneurial mindset identifies opportunities, marshals resources and creates value, but the primarily focuses on the creation of social value – value often for the marginalized of society – rather than private economic value.

Explaining the Revolution

In order to create a revolution, a social entrepreneur is not content to simply provide a fishing pole, but rather wants to understand answers to a list of questions. Why does the man not know how to fish? Why is the focus on fishing? Why is the worry only about the man and not the woman? Therefore, a social entrepreneur attempts to understand the cause of the problem before developing a creative solution to address the problem and create social value. For example, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Laureate in 2006, began to alleviate poverty by providing small loans (as little as $10) to women in Bangladesh as start-up capital to fund small micro-enterprises.  He was instrumental in helping launch the micro-credit revolution that has provided millions of dollars to poor people around the world and contributed to the alleviation of poverty.

Expanding Social Entrepreneurship in Cincinnati

While a great deal of work in the field of social entrepreneurship occurs in developing countries, the trend is also rapidly expanding in the Greater Cincinnati area through the trends of collaboration and youth involvement.

One example of collaboration is Flywheel Cincinnati, www.flywheelcincinnati.org ,a social enterprise hub designed to assist nonprofit organizations develop revenue generating strategies to increase their financial sustainability. Four partners founded Flywheel – a for-profit consulting firm (Centric Consulting), two nonprofits (Leadership Council of Human Services Executives and Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati) and a university (Miami’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship). In addition, Flywheel was initially funded by a collaborative of local funders, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./US Bank Foundation, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trusts/Fifth Third Bank, and United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Recently, Duke Energy signed a three-year commitment of support.

The youth movement in social entrepreneurship can be seen locally through high schools and colleges. UCREW www.ugive.org/ucrew works with 60 high school students across Cincinnati to develop social business ventures for a social problem of their choice. Universities in the region developed courses, lecture series, co-curriculars, research and centers to support the rapid growth of social entrepreneurship.

As social entrepreneurship emerges, innovative approaches to work across the nonprofit / for-profit continuum with entrepreneurs, funders and multi-national corporations to address serious social problems are rapidly arising.  Social entrepreneurship is just beginning and Cincinnati is perfectly positioned to be a national leader in the revolution!

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