Why Be a Social Entrepreneur?
What might drive you to social entrepreneurship? While there's no question you can create positive social results simply by participating in the market and being your entrepreneurial self, you need to look inside and see if you want to go further than that. Do you feel a fundamental desire to help people? Do you want to improve the lives of others-give them better chances? Do you want to change the human condition? If so, today's global environment puts you in a unique position to do just that.
Now more than ever, the world needs your help. Through pollution, overpopulation and abuse of natural resources we're threatening to undercut our own survival. While a small percentage of the world's population lives better than ever before, the majority of people struggle to live through the day. As a student living in America you have an unprecedented opportunity to end the inequity. You can apply your skills -design, technical, business, entrepreneurial-to any number of areas in need: the developing world, the environment, the disabled, the poor, etc. Now is your time.
The developing world
It has been estimated that 80% (five billion people) of the world's population live in poverty. Statistics show that we're living off our support systems in an unhealthy, degrading, inequitable, and unsustainable manner. Examples of worldwide problems include:
- 20% of the world's population lack clean water
- 40% lack adequate sanitation
- 20% lack adequate housing
- 70% unable to read
- 20% earn less than one dollar a day
- 20% underfed and 20% overfed
- 20% suffer from malnutrition (35% under age five)
- 35,000 people die every day from hunger-related causes
- 250,000 children die each week of malnutrition and preventable diseases
- 40% of population are at risk of malaria
- Deaths from AIDS increased more than six times over the 1990s
Communities facing these challenges include developing countries, indigenous groups, the handicapped and the elderly. Stakeholders and non-governmental organizations can articulate these community needs but often lack the technical expertise and facilities to solve them. Local entrepreneurs with innovative solutions often lack the expertise to implement solutions and commercialize them on a large scale.
This is where you come in. You are a member of a privileged community of thousands of students-a group with the skills and ability to make a difference, but who often aren't aware of their capacity to create change in underserved communities. Be aware!
As documented in Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," human activity is contributing to a steady increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere through the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Over time, this increase may be sufficient to cause climatic change. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth's surface temperature has risen by about one degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with accelerated warming during the past two decades.
Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, change precipitation, and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies. It could also affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems.
What can you do to stop this phenomenon with potentially disastrous effects? You can become a social entrepreneur specializing in sustainable development. Sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development implies economic growth together with the protection of environmental quality, each reinforcing the other. The essence of this form of development is a stable relationship between human activities and the natural world, which does not diminish the prospects for future generations to enjoy a quality of life at least as good as our own.
What role can you play as a technological innovator in this struggle? You may have ideas for new technologies that can meet basic needs. You may pursue technology for developing countries (water purification, sanitation, power production, shelter, site planning, infrastructure, food production and distribution, communication), assistive technology for the disabled/elderly (improved wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, pharmaceuticals), or technology for the environment (alternative energy and quite a lot more). There are many opportunities to make a difference and make a good living doing it.
How big is your footprint?
A person's "ecological footprint" is a measurement of their impact on nature. The average American uses thirty acres to support his or her current lifestyle-that's thirty football fields put together. In comparison, the average Canadian lives on a footprint one-third smaller, and the average Italian on 55% less.
How much can nature provide? With a global population of over six billion, nature provides an average of five acres of bioproductive space for every person in the world. When the population grows to ten billion, the available space will be reduced to three acres. This should also give room for at least twenty-five million other species. Already, humanity's footprint may be over 30% larger than our fair share.
What can we do? We can become part of the sustainability movement and make it possible for everybody to secure their quality of life within the means of nature.
Muhammad Yunus is the world's best-known social entrepreneur. Thirty-some years ago, he was a young professor of economics in his native Bangladesh. He was driven to find a way to convince banks to give loans to the poorest people in his country. He was thought to be mad. The poor have no collateral, he was told. Loaning them money is folly. They will never be able to pay you back. So Yunus decided to start a bank for the poor. The first loan was for about 30 US dollars. Today millions, women in particular, have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to the Grameen Bank. The Grameen Bank was the first micro-lending institution in the world. Today, microcredit is mainstreamed even into the most conservative institutions. Yunus changed forever the myth that being poor was synonymous with being a high-risk investment. Grameen's repayment rate over the years has been between 95 and 98%. Other micro-finance institutions across the world that emulated Grameen report the same returns.
Roy Prosterman had a rising career with one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in New York City. Initially, he found the work fascinating. But, increasingly disheartened by the expenditure of vast sums of money by corporations on legal fees to defend their interests against consumers, he left the firm, and at the invitation of the University of Washington, started teaching. Soon thereafter, Prosterman came upon a law review article about land reform in Latin America that changed his life forever. Inspired by a new life mission, Prosterman founded the Rural Development Institute (RDI) on a shoestring. Its objective was to reform the rural land policies of the world's poorest countries so that farmers could gain land ownership.
Today, Prosterman, a true social entrepreneur, is 65 years old. He has been working in land reform for 35 years, focused on building legal capacity in the 35 countries that have sought his help. Because of RDI, 70 million farmers have received land ownership to about 62 million acres, close to 2% of the world's arable land.