Can social entrepreneurship create change in Egypt?
The Arab Spring was meant to be about “bread and jobs.” It was meant to be about a people desiring democracy. Ultimately, it’s about hope and dignity. In Egypt, they got the vote. They still don’t have bread and jobs. More importantly, they don’t have hope. More than two years later, 90% of the unemployed in Egypt are less than 30 years old.
Can social entrepreneurship in Egypt make a difference?
Technically social entrepreneurship is a business that solves a social problem. The rural poor in Bangladesh can move out of poverty through microfinance. A household in Rwanda can borrow to own a solar panel that creates light for children to study by, power a small TV, and create income from charging cell phones. A farmer in Kenya can own an irrigation pump for $35 and increase annual household income by 100-200 percent. All provided by a business funded by sales rather than grants.
At best social entrepreneurship (“SE”) is the hope that business can generate massive systems change. It’s the hope that capitalism can be kind, that business can be the vehicle of empathy and that humans are motivated forces such as compassion. Professor Muhammad Yunus (2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner) states the powerful idea that humans are “multi-dimensional” driven by forces deeper than self-interest. The shocking truth, according Yunus, is that we care about each other. And we are searching for a new model of business that lets this desire perfect itself. It’s the promise that social problems can be solved by business. That the private sector isn’t a helpless bystander to the car crash of the world’s toughest problems. That capital markets can be tools for change. That even hard-nosed Wall Street bankers can be driven by a desire to help.
The promise of SE is that a new model of business is emerging. Working for nameless, faceless shareholders is bankrupt – simply an archaic model of how to motivate and inspire your staff, customers and clients.
At worst SE is an unproven mess of unreplicable models that can’t scale, created by Birkenstock wearing do gooders.
I visited Tahrir square the week of the 2nd anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution. Signs of the historic revolution were evident in the burnt out headquarters of former President Mubarak.
Protester’s camps in Tahrir square were manned 24 hours a day. The young people had created a shrine to the more than 800 martyrs who died in the protest. Young people, children. Hundreds blinded, wounded or disabled from police rubber bullets. Here’s a video of the Tahrir Square protesters camps.
Can social entrepreneurship help today’s youth in Tahrir Square? Can it help Coptics, Muslims, young, old, educated, uneducated and create massive social change?
Short answer is: we don’t know. We don’t know who’s really in charge or when the next election is. We can only speculate who will win and how long before politicians create hope grounded in policy and dignity grounded in employment – the basic necessities of life.
For the small team at Generation Social we know one thing: we must start. One look at videos of unarmed protestors being shot is enough for us to start the hard work of creating hope in the tough, volatile upheaval of Egypt’s march to jobs, bread, prosperity and freedom. We don’t have the answers. We just know something must be done.