A mobile health solution in Kenya that has given 1,000 mothers access to high-quality diagnostics and medical advice. An off-grid energy solution in Uganda that has brought clean energy to 100 rural developments. A sanitation center in South Africa that has improved hygiene for more than 2,000 families living in urban slums.

All these impactful solutions were implemented by social enterprises (SEs) — a new breed of organizations whose activities combine social and revenue oriented objectives. SEs have a solid understanding of local communities and benefit from the flexibility to experiment and adapt to changing contexts.

 Social Enterprises: How They Fit and Thrive
Image: World Bank

These few examples of innovative solutions demonstrate how South Asia and Africa are increasingly becoming a dynamic regional market for SEs, filling big gaps in the delivery of social services to the poor and underserved communities. SEs have increased their presence and reach every year, particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa, with vibrant markets in South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda leading the way.

Yet, while inspiring success stories exist, widespread scale, replication, and integration within the wider network of public and private sector delivery have not yet been achieved across the region and within countries. SEs face multiple challenges that relate to the under-developed ecosystems within which they operate.

So, how can we help? How can we better understand SE ecosystems at a national and sectoral level? How can we improve them? What can we learn from best practices around the world?

With all of these questions in mind, the Social Enterprise Innovation team at the World Bank Group developed an SE ecosystem diagnostic tool. The tool combines different methodologies found in the literature to create an exhaustive review of the SE ecosystem: demand by the target population, supply of services, the SE situation at the heart of the model, and four factors that influence their ability to operate effectively and scale up.

social enterprise ecosystems effectiveness scaling up
Image: World Bank

The ecosystem framework guides analysis at all levels: country, service delivery sector and service delivery subsector. The team aims for the framework to help practitioners, policy makers, and social entrepreneurs to:

- Better understand the sector landscape and the potential role and impact of SEs

- Analyze inter-relations between actors and the importance of partnerships

- Examine best practices from ongoing initiatives, with early evidence of what is and isn’t working

- Review short-, medium- and long-term results of projects in seven African countries

- Make evidence-based decisions on priorities and interventions to maximize resources

- Benchmark ecosystem performance against other countries

Understanding the immense potential of SEs and creating an enabling environment for them to thrive could supplement public and private service delivery, bringing critical social services to the last mile.