Fixing the world’s problems means coming at them from new angles. The world’s best social entrepreneurs aren’t just trying to change things by repeating age old methods. Rather, they’re looking to innovate and create new approaches, ones which can save lives, protect the environment, reboot democracy and help society’s poorest lift themselves out of poverty.
It’s the latter which drives Christine Souffrant, the founder of Vendedy. Souffrant comes from a long line of street vendors, selling artisan crafts in her native Haiti. After initially pursuing a career in banking, she decided to start her own business helping street vendors bypass wholesalers and sell direct to consumers, following a year studying social entrepreneurship.
Souffrant sees her business in the mould of Etsy or eBay, but acting as a marketplace for those whose expert handiwork is often exploited and sold at a profit by third parties. It’s already led to some vendors grossing between nine and 14 per cent of their annual income in a few weeks.
Such social ventures are playing out in different areas, and different industries, across the globe. In Uruguay, a startup called Chipsafer is looking to bolster the poorest farmers by helping them help themselves, much as Vendedy has done for artisans in Haiti. The company, setup by Victoria Alonsopérez, was created in the wake of the Latin American country’s devastating foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, which hit livestock and destroyed the lives of farmers living on the edge.
Alonsopérez produces chips which are embedded in animals, detecting anomalies and assessing performance, which in turn helps boost production and makes more money for the farmers.
Of course, the billions of low income and subsistence farmers in developing countries aren’t just reliant on animals. Good quality soil is essential for crops and with water resources constrained globally, being able to understand more about agriculture is essential in order to prevent waste.
That’s where SenSprout comes in. A Japanese initiative, headed up by Yoshihiro Kalahari. It’s currently working towards mass producing sensors which can monitor soil conditions and environmental information in real time. This means farmers will be able to use the perfect amount of water and fertiliser, improving their crops, gaining higher yields and helping the environment to boot. It’s a classic case of social entrepreneurship having more than one positive outcome.
Boosting the environment is also a happy byproduct of Colombian startup Diseclar. This clever company makes stunning furniture from plastic and agri industrial waste, borne out of the concerns of founder Juan Nicolas Suarez when he was working for a soft drinks manufacturer. Suarez saw an opportunity to innovate and use waste that was polluting our environment in a productive way. The result isn’t just well designed furniture that resembles the very best wood. In its first year, Diseclar recycled 300,000 kg of plastic waste and 192,000 kg of agri industrial waste which saved 17,000 tonnes of CO2 being produced.
Starting businesses to help change the environment and improve personal circumstances by creating innovative solutions for age old businesses shows the value of social entrepreneurship. But innovating needn’t be limited to these areas. Brazilian company MGov Brasil is looking to achieve something huge with its smart mobile product: boosting public services and government social policy via modern technology.
It does so by utilising the boom in telecommunications to reach out to everyday people via calls and texts, gaining their views on burning issues from transportation to healthcare. The private nature of sending an SMS for speaking candidly with researchers has meant local and national government have been able to tweak policy according to need. This has resulted in 1.6 million Brazilians seeing the positive effects.
When it comes to the crunch, innovation isn’t just a buzzword. It’s an essential tool in the social entrepreneurs arsenal. Breaking the status quo, after all, helps change lives.