As austerity measures deepen, are big businesses unwittingly contributing to social injustice? If so, who will fill the gap they are leaving?
Recent political and financial events have seen businesses retrench, dig in and attempt to ride out the storm. To many, this suggests that the corporate world is being indifferent to its social responsibility. Community projects are being curtailed and cash donations to charities drying up. The impact can only be detrimental.
Unlike other countries, Mauritius is lacking behind in producing social entrepreneurs who are often seen as the antithesis of corporate enterprise and tend to stand shoulder to shoulder with social justice issues. They strive to create new models that aim not only to deliver shareholder value (for social entrepreneurs are still business people after all) but also seek to share some of that value elsewhere. Today’s social entrepreneurs look for alternative ways to run successful businesses that are not dependant on traditional power models. Wealth is considered as more than a healthy bank balance and value becomes more than just cash. The social entrepreneur ensures that some of the wealth their activity generates benefits the wider society.
The YUVA Leadership Academy seeks to transform Mauritius by developing a powerful network of young leaders who will work together to address Mauritius’ greatest challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact, and accelerate the country’s growth trajectory.
Mauritius’ greatest need is ethical and entrepreneurial leadership. Too often, we only invest in addressing the symptoms of poor leadership in Mauritius: we give blankets, food, and medicine to those impacted by poverty, or we aren’t able to create enough jobs for our young people. But these efforts will never stop unless we develop leaders who prevent adopt good governance, entrepreneurs who create jobs, and innovators that develop lasting solutions to the root causes of Mauritius’ problems. We aim to develop the future Nelson Mandela, the next Wangari Maathai, and the Mauritian Bill Gates.
Since last year, YUVA Leadership Academy has formed and empowered 250+ young people through free entrepreneurship and leadership programmes. Nevertheless, from now on, the YUVA Leadership Academy will sell (at an affordable fee of Rs 1,000/-) empowerment programmes to the young people of Mauritius and then reinvest the money it makes back into the local community to support the education, health and employment of Mauritian families living under poverty line. This social entrepreneurship venture will allow YUVA to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, support communities and help the environment. So, when we profit, society profits.
As a social enterprise, the YUVA Leadership Academy will play the role of change agent in the social sector, by:
- Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
- Recognising and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
- Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
- Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
- Exhibiting heightened accountability to the clients served and for the outcomes created.
Change agents in the social sector
The YUVA Leadership Academy will act as a reformer, but with a social mission. It will make fundamental changes in the way things are done in the social sector. Our vision is bold. We will attack the underlying causes of problems, rather than simply treating symptoms. We will reduce needs rather than just meeting them. We will seek to create systemic changes and sustainable improvements. Though we may act locally, our actions will hopefully have the potential to stimulate global improvements in our chosen arenas, whether that is education, health care, economic development, the environment, the arts, or any other social field.
Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value
This is the core of what distinguishes social entrepreneurs from business entrepreneurs even from socially responsible businesses. For YUVA Leadership Academy, the social mission is fundamental. This is a mission of social improvement that cannot be reduced to creating private benefits (financial returns or consumption benefits) for individuals. Making a profit, creating wealth, or serving the desires of customers may be part of the model, but these are means to a social end, not the end in itself. Profit is not the gauge of value creation; nor is customer satisfaction; social impact is the gauge. YUVA Leadership Academy looks for a long-term social return on investment. We want more than a quick hit; we want to create lasting improvements. We think about sustaining the impact.
Recognising and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities
Where others are seeing problems, YUVA is seeing opportunity. We are not simply driven by the perception of a social need or by our compassion, rather we have a vision of how to achieve improvement and we are determined to make our vision work. We are persistent. The models we develop and the approaches we take can, and often do, change, as we learn about what works and what does not work. The key element is persistence combined with a willingness to make adjustments as one goes. Rather than giving up when an obstacle is encountered, we ask, “How can we surmount this obstacle? How can we make this work?”
Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning
We want to be innovative. We want to break new ground, develop new models, and pioneer new approaches. However, it does not require inventing something wholly new; it can simply involve applying an existing idea in a new way or to a new situation. Being a pioneering Mauritian NGO into the implementation of social entrepreneurship in the country, we need not be inventors. We simply need to be creative in applying what others have invented. Our innovations may appear in how we structure our core programs or in how we assemble the resources and fund our work. On the funding side, we need to look for innovative ways to assure that our ventures will have access to resources as long as we are creating social value. This willingness to innovate is part of the modus operandi of entrepreneurs. It is not just a one-time burst of creativity. It is a continuous process of exploring, learning, and improving. Of course, with innovation comes uncertainty and risk of failure. We tend to have a high tolerance for ambiguity and learn how to manage risks for ourselves and others. We treat failure of a project as a learning experience, not a personal tragedy.
Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand
We will not let our own limited resources keep us from pursuing our visions. We are skilled at doing more with less and at attracting resources from others. We use scarce resources efficiently, and we leverage our limited resources by drawing in partners and collaborating with others. We will explore all resource options, from pure philanthropy to the commercial methods of the business sector. We are not bound by sector norms or traditions. We will develop resource strategies that are likely to support and reinforce our social missions. We will take calculated risks and manage the downside, so as to reduce the harm that will result from failure. We understand the risk tolerances of our stakeholders and use this to spread the risk to those who are better prepared to accept it.
Exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created
Because market discipline does not automatically weed out inefficient or ineffective social ventures, YUVA Leadership Academy will take steps to assure it is creating value. This means that we will seek a sound understanding of the clients we are serving. We will make sure we have correctly assessed the needs and values of the people we intend to serve and the communities in which we operate. In some cases, this requires close connections with those communities. We understand the expectations and values of our “investors,” including anyone who invests money, time, and/or expertise to help us. We seek to provide real social improvements to our beneficiaries and our communities, as well as attractive (social and/or financial) return to our investors. Creating a fit between investor values and community needs is an important part of the challenge. When feasible, we will create market-like feedback mechanisms to reinforce this accountability. We will assess our progress in terms of social, financial, and managerial outcomes, not simply in terms of our size, outputs, or processes. We will use this information to make course corrections as needed.
To conclude, as social entrepreneurs, I think we are one special breed of leaders, and we should be recognised as such. This definition preserves our distinctive status and assures that social entrepreneurship is not treated lightly. We need social entrepreneurs to help the country find new avenues toward social improvement.