How can we create more social entrepreneurs?

Panellists at the ‘Innovating for Social Impact’ session at the World Economic Forum’s Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development. Image: World Economic Forum/Deepu Das/Flickr

Michael Purton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Social enterprises support 200 million jobs globally and generate $2 trillion in annual revenue, finds a new report co-authored by the World Economic Forum.
  • But a lack of “entrepreneurship education” stops many people from launching their own business for social good – so what needs to change?
  • Here’s what panellists had to say during the Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development.

“If we want to tackle one of the biggest problems youth face today, which is unemployment … we need to start teaching them how to create businesses, how to create social impact initiatives at an early age.”

This was the message from Lynn Malkawi, Curator of the Amman Hub, and other panellists during a session at the World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development.

The ‘Innovating for Social Impact’ discussion took place during the conference, which was attended by over 700 leaders from all sectors and industries and held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from 28-29 April 2024.

There are 10 million social enterprises around the world which are helping to solve the most pressing global challenges, from helping people escape poverty to building the global circular economy.

World map.
This map shows the number of social enterprises in countries around the world. Image: WEF

Social enterprises, which make up 3% of all businesses globally, stand out from traditional businesses by placing a strong emphasis on creating social and environmental value in addition to economic value.

Unlike conventional non-profit organizations, social enterprises are self-sustaining through their business activities. They prioritize social impact over financial returns and reinvest their profits back into their mission.

Social enterprises support 200 million jobs worldwide and generate $2 trillion in annual revenue, finds a new report co-authored by the Schwab Foundation, the Bertelsmann Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Half of these businesses are run by women, according to The State of Social Enterprise, compared to one in five conventional businesses, meaning they play a crucial role in bridging the gender gap.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

So how can countries encourage more people to be social entrepreneurs? Here’s what the panellists had to say during the Innovating for Social Impact session on 29 April, which was chaired by Mina Al-Oraibi, Editor-in-Chief of The National.

Educate young people on how to be an entrepreneur

Education is the most important factor for creating more social entrepreneurs, according to Lynn Malkawi, Curator of the Amman Hub, which helps young Jordanians reach their potential.

Malkawi said countries need more “entrepreneurship education empowering young people at an early age”.

“Social innovation, social enterprises, are a new concept. So there needs to be a partnership between the public sector and the private sector. When we’re talking about investing in human capital, education, it’s about collaboration between people with diverse perspectives to address problems that go beyond borders,” she said. “The education system needs to include methodologies that teach youth this at an early age.”

She added: “We work on partnering private and public schools together for a joint learning experience where they learn how to create businesses, they learn community organizing, they learn project management, and then we help fund their businesses or their small project so they can learn entrepreneurship at an early age.”

Malkawi said raising awareness of the opportunities out there in social enterprise is also crucial to drive people into the sector.

“First thing is creating awareness of the jobs that are currently present, what development in those jobs looks like, and then incentivizing them to make that career shift, because if they don’t know what is waiting for them, what they can change towards, they won’t make that change,” she said.

Raise awareness of social innovation

Anne-Laure Malauzat, a Partner at Bain & Company, and Head of the consultancy firm’s Middle East Social Impact practice, also pointed to awareness and education as key issues for encouraging more people to become social entrepreneurs.

“We need to work on awareness raising around what social innovation is and changing mindsets, and that comes through education. In school we don’t teach people that entrepreneurship is a cool thing,” she said.

“We are so scared of failure,” Malauzat added, when discussing why many people turn away from starting their own business. “About 60% of the entrepreneurs I mentor have another job on the side – they do [entrepreneurship] as a 5-9pm gig. It’s hard to innovate when you have responsibilities and another job at the same time.”

Malauzat argued that leaders need to “raise awareness that social innovation doesn’t mean doing non-profit”.

“Most of the people that I mentor start with a business idea, then we take them towards the social. ‘How can you make this more social? Can you hire underprivileged people to be part of this? Do you want to have a focus on community building as part of your launch?’,” she said.

“There are many ways to be social. People tend to have a very traditional, outdated view of ‘I do non-profit, I give to charity’. We really have to change that mindset.”

Discussing what the education sector can do to cultivate more social entrepreneurs, Malauzat said: “There are examples of universities that embed the need for social innovation within their outcomes. For example, [the American University in Cairo] has classes where students and professors who are also practitioners have to do social impact projects in order to succeed in the class.”

Provide mentors for aspiring entrepreneurs

COVID-19 led to many people reflecting on their career and moving into social enterprise, said Mae Al Mozaini, Founder and CEO of The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment (Nusf).

“The pandemic has created a financial setback of course, but it also created a [time of] reflection for so many people,” said Mozaini. “What do they want to do after COVID? How are they going to expand? A lot of people left jobs, there were economic setbacks … but also it created a social innovation kind of space for people who wanted to be different after COVID.”

Providing aspiring entrepreneurs with role models and mentors is also key for their development, Mozaini said. Which was the thinking behind the institute’s ‘Walk the Talk’ programme: “We identify senior executive women and we match them with 50 young professionals just entering the job market,” she said.

Malkawi also offered words of encouragement to young people: “What gives me hope is that now it is easier than ever [to start a company]. There is so much money out there that youth can utilize, so many resources, so many capacity-building programmes. So now is the time. Now is the time to start your own company. There are so many people out there willing to help you – and the world is changing.”

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