True or False? 5 Myths about Starting A Social Enterprise in Africa

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By Zarreen Kamalie

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding social entrepreneurship, particularly given how new the concept is. They are equal to, if not more so in number, the amount of misconceptions surrounding the continent of Africa.

While, poverty and underdevelopment are major issues that need tackling it is also important to remember that there numerous bright and innovative individuals ready to make a difference.

Whether you’re an African yourself feeling a little hesitant about engaging with a social enterprise, either on your own or someone who you know, or if you’ve just stumbled onto this page, here are 5 myths about starting a social enterprise in Africa.

Myth 1: The Environmental And Social Welfare Are The Government’s Responsibility

Africa, and all its 54 countries within it, has a long, turbulent history that often rears its ugly head through sustained poverty and social neglect. Between corrupt governments and inadequate public policy implementation, African governments cannot always be depended upon as African peoples’ saving grace.

The best thing about social enterprise, and social innovation and entrepreneurship, is that they  are citizen-led and often locally based sustainable solutions for local problems. Social entrepreneurship has been hailed “the magic bullet” to fight poverty and address social problems on the ground.

For example, the lack of access to power and electricity for rural communities is exceptionally high across Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet with social enterprises like Solar Sister, and singer Akon’s Lighting Africa, these circumstances are slowly changing. Check out the Stanford Social Innovation Review on Five Innovations That Will Electrify Africa to get an idea of how individuals are taking initiative over their governments.

Myth 2: Your contribution will be insignificant and no one will take you seriously, especially if you’re a student

Benedict Mundele, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers last year. She is the founder of Surprise Tropicale, a catering company that serves organic food made from local produce.

She is also 21 years old, and can add busting this myth to her list of accomplishments.

There are a number of young innovators and entrepreneurs in this same situation, click here to read about the rest.

Myth 3: You’ll need to raise a lot of money before getting any real work done, and finding funding is near impossible

While funding is difficult to locate, particularly when dealing with terms, conditions and requirements that you cannot meet, do not fret. There are so many investors waiting for the next big thing, especially in Africa where your next big thing could bring the continent further away from the misconception of the aid-ridden region.

Diaspora funding has become a great way to attain funding, so try looking for funds similar to Lelapa Fund and BlueBees that aim to stimulate African-based solutions for Africans.

Otherwise, don’t forget that this is the time to shamelessly ask people for money over the Internet, without needing to pose as a prince. So go ahead and crowdfund, or crowd source.  Some great crowdfunding platforms include IndieGoGo and Bolstr.

For more ways to fund your enterprise, click here.

Myth 4: Education as a “cure-for-all”, as long as we invest in education everything else will fall into place

Access to education is incredibly important, particularly to break the cycle of poverty. However, we need to consider that there are often factors that are completely glazed over that impede some individuals’ ability to attend school.

The amazing thing about social entrepreneurship is that it address problems that one would have to have witnessed first hand to fully understand the implications of this hindrance. Misconceptions around menstruation and the related high number of female dropouts, for example, are a complex problem that have to be addressed within their unique context. Many girls across Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to disposable sanitary pads, and thus feel the need to miss school due to poor facilities surrounding menstrual hygiene, and persistent bullying from boys.

It is obstacles such as taboo, poor social understanding, and infrastructural underdevelopment that calls upon the solutions of social innovations such as Flo.

Aside from these contextual dilemmas, it is also important to realise that social entrepreneurship helps cultivate and exercise the skills of the future that help them create solutions for complex problems while in turn bringing value to the labor market and creating a demand for their skills.

Myth 5: It’s Human Nature To Prioritize Profit Over Sustainability

I think the argument for this one can be drawn straight down the middle. It may be really obvious to some, and not so much to others. I would say that this myth is what could essentially separate philanthropy and charity from social entrepreneurship.

Philanthropy and charity, particularly from successful businesses and corporations, becomes a once-off afterthought when the right level of profits have been reached. As said by successful South African social entrepreneur Gina Levy, “social entrepreneurship allows one to both gain profit and implement sustainable social impact.” Social entrepreneurship allows those of us to simultaneously address major social problems and give back, and produce profits to maintain this level of generosity.

 

The next big obstacle is you, really. Just make sure to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, and exercise every option when it comes to funding, marketing, and execution. If you’re thinking of setting up or getting involved in a social enterprise, then don’t let any of these myths stand in your way.

 

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