Social Innovation

This is how we empower the next generation of social innovators

Social innovators and their enterprises create 200 million jobs in the global economy.

Social innovators and their enterprises create 200 million jobs in the global economy. Image: RLabs

Adam Gavin
Impact Communications Specialist, Foundations, World Economic Forum
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  • The social economy employs hundreds of millions of people worldwide and impacts even more lives.
  • While this is good news, there is still far more space for more social innovators to start-up.
  • To this end, below are the key takeaways from a conversation between two leading social innovators from South Africa.

Last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution recognizing the social economy as a driver of inclusive and sustainable economies. Social enterprises are not just about revenue and impact but also about people.

Social enterprises stimulate economic growth and support livelihoods, creating a staggering 200 million jobs across all sectors, from agriculture to financial services. Half of all social enterprises are run by women, compared to one in five other businesses. Despite these positive numbers, the need for more innovation, inclusivity and collaboration in the entrepreneurial community is urgent.

A recent discussion with Rene Parker and Luvuyo Rani, two Schwab Foundation social innovator awardees in South Africa, underscores the importance of empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs through mentorship and networking opportunities.

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Meet the social entrepreneurs

Rene Parker is a social impact entrepreneur with extensive experience developing large-scale social ventures. As the Director and Co-Founder of RLabs, Parker has transformed the organization from a community project in Cape Town into an award-winning global social enterprise. RLabs creates environments and systems where people are impacted, empowered, and transformed through HOPE (Hope, Innovation, Technology, Training, and Economic Opportunities). Since its establishment in 2009, the RLabs model has been replicated in 23 countries, positively influencing over 50 million people. Parker is committed to empowering women in technology and business and continues to provide mentorship and strategic direction to startups and innovation hubs across Africa.

Social innovator Luvuyo Rani, the Founder and CEO of Silulo Ulutho Technologies, discovered his entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. Motivated to empower townships and rural communities by connecting them to the world of technology, he founded Silulo Ulutho Technologies in 2004 by selling refurbished computers. The company later expanded to providing IT training and servicing. The award-winning company has more than 46 stores in South African townships and rural areas, 220 full-time staff members, and 18 franchisees. Silulo is deeply embedded in its communities and has helped lift thousands of families out of poverty and provide business opportunities through its franchise model. Rani attributes his entrepreneurial ventures' success to his mother's support and the opportunities granted through education.

Luvuyo Rani (left), Rene Parker (middle) and Marlon Parker (right) at the launch of EntrepreNXT.
Luvuyo Rani (left), Rene Parker (middle) and Marlon Parker (right) at the launch of EntrepreNXT. Image: RLabs

Parker and Rani recently announced a new collaboration between their innovation hub and community development venture called EntrepreNXT: Innovation Uniting Communities. This joint effort represents a significant step towards promoting inclusive economic growth and societal transformation in South Africa through comprehensive skills development programmes, access to funding opportunities, mentorship schemes and a shared marketplace. EntrepreNXT aims to empower individuals to thrive in the digital economy and beyond by equipping aspiring entrepreneurs with the requisite tools and resources. In addition to the resources EntrepreNXT provides, Parker and Rani highlight the following needs in the entrepreneurial community:

In conversation with two leading social innovators: 3 takeaways

In today's fast-changing world, Rene Parker emphasizes the crucial importance of embracing diversity and promoting collaboration within entrepreneurship. She argues that traditional approaches have been ineffective and calls for a shift towards inclusivity. Parker stresses the need for diverse voices and perspectives to foster innovation and tackle complex challenges. Luvuyo Rani agrees, emphasizing the impact of collaboration in discovering new opportunities and driving sustainable growth. Both advocate for creating an environment where individuals from all backgrounds feel empowered to contribute and collaborate towards shared goals.

1. Seizing the moment

Parker and Rani stress the importance of the current moment in entrepreneurship. They highlight the energy and enthusiasm within the entrepreneurial community, indicating a readiness for change. Parker suggests now is the perfect time for bold action and innovation, as individuals and organizations are eager to make a meaningful impact. Rani emphasizes taking advantage of this momentum and encourages stakeholders to take decisive steps toward positive transformation. Both speakers emphasize the need to capture the current momentum to drive lasting change and address urgent societal needs.

2. Leadership and community engagement

Central to the discussion is the role of leadership and community engagement in driving entrepreneurial success. Parker highlights the need for authentic leadership that prioritizes community welfare and fosters an enabling environment for aspiring entrepreneurs. She emphasizes the importance of leaders serving as mentors and facilitators, guiding the next generation of innovators and change-makers. Rani echoes this sentiment, stressing the importance of leaders who are committed to the greater good and capable of mobilizing resources for collective benefit. Both speakers call for a shift towards servant leadership, where leaders prioritize the needs of their communities and work collaboratively towards shared goals.

3. Vision for change

"They're just waiting for someone to tell them: You know what? Go ahead, you can do this."

Rene Parker, Director and Co-Founder, RLabs

Parker and Rani are optimistic about the potential for transformative change in entrepreneurship. They imagine a future where entrepreneurship is characterized by inclusivity, sustainability and social impact. Parker emphasizes the importance of showcasing possibilities and fostering a sense of collective purpose to inspire individuals to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations. Rani envisions a landscape where resources are readily available to support innovative ideas and initiatives that address pressing societal challenges. Both speakers emphasize the need for visionary leadership and collective action to realize this vision for change.

The discussion about entrepreneurship highlights the pressing need for change and the importance of working together and nurturing social innovators. Promoting and implementing inclusivity, collaboration and visionary leadership can set the stage for a fairer and more successful entrepreneurial environment, leading to innovation, empowerment and social impact.

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