Re-inventing business and society

25 Aug 2017


Kerryn Krige is the author of the book, Disruptors, in addition to being the head of the portfolio of Network for Social Entrepreneurs at the Gordon Institute for Business Science or (GIBS). She co-wrote Disruptors with Gus Silber, in order to answer the often asked question, “What is social entrepreneurship?” She hopes it will help to illustrate what South Africans are teaching the world as we strengthen our economy and our society.


Krige told how she used to give a fixed donation every Monday, to a man who stood at an intersection on her way to work. She realised that it was not the amount she gave which was of importance, but rather the predictability of the donation which allowed the man to plan ahead. He could choose what he would do with that money. The act of giving allowed her to enjoy a feeling of benevolence. It also highlighted her as a person of means while the man was not, so giving rise to a power dynamic. This made her consider social giving in South Africa, a country of extreme social inequality. She asked herself the question, “Why are we funding our social development through benevolence, when it actually perpetuates inequality and does not bridge it?”


The Gini index measures degrees of inequality and South Africa shares the top spot with Brazil. However, inequality is not only about money. The UN issues a Human Development Index which measures wellbeing or, in other words, the conditions a country creates for its people, so allowing them to thrive. The three things it measures are the ability to access good education, good health care and opportunity, as these things will permit the populace to bring in disposable income. They seem very simple, yet in 2014 South Africa shared a rank with Syria, just above Iraq. We do not consider ourselves as a nation in dire crisis, yet our people have as much opportunity to survive as the people in Syria. We have to do something about it, but we cannot keep relying merely on goodwill to fund the goods and services which the country needs in order to grow.


The opposite side of benevolence must be profit. This is not a word commonly used within charitable society as it is often associated with exploitation. Yet by introducing the word profit into social change the previous beneficiaries become customers. They are given the choice of whether they engage with the goods or services on offer, depending on if they see worthwhile value there. “This is the heart of social entrepreneurship, the heart of social change; a model that bridges the opposite spectrums of for-profit and not-for-profit,” explains Krige. Where for-profit entities generate economic value and bring in income because they earn it, the not-for-profit entities generate social value and bring in income because they ask for it.


The country is in a recession with a growth rate of marginally over 0.01%. We cannot rely on opposite ends of the spectrum to generate the depth of social and economic change required to make South Africa thrive. It is necessary to open up the middle of the spectrum to social enterprise, for they operate right across the spectrum. Some are civil society organisations while others are social purpose businesses, yet they all share the conviction of social mission and profit. They blend the best of business practice with the best that social society has to offer.  Operating on the frontier, they are found in places where markets do not exist and neither business nor civil society will go. We could learn so much from them as they thrive under constraint. Where we see failure, they see opportunity. They make things happen where other people cannot.


Thus our poor ranking in health, education and the global competitiveness index in addition to the lack of trust in our labour market, are seen by these people as opportunities, because they feel driven to improve the society in which they find themselves. They are truly the power behind economic change. There are a number of these amazing people who are profiled in Krige’s book, but here we will mention just a few.


Professor Kovan Naidoo runs a multimillion dollar, multinational, social enterprise called the Brien Holden Institute, which operates in 54 countries. The Brien Holden Vision Institute is a huge company which earns a substantial amount of money through being one of the foremost research and development companies for contact lens technology. Yet they are primarily not a contact lens technology company. Instead they exist to provide primary healthcare to people in 54 countries, free of charge. That is a great example of social enterprise.


Next we look at Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison who were appalled that South Africa achieved bottom ranking in the global assessment of the quality of education, particularly for maths and science. Yet where others see misery our social entrepreneurs see opportunity. A few years ago they began an enterprise called Spark Schools which they funded through venture capital. Their efforts have become a phenomenal success. However, these examples are not charities; instead they are businesses which were set up in order to respond to issues which people have seen within their society.


The last profile is that of Claire Reid who started her social enterprise, Reel Garden Strips, as a teenager. She recognised the need for South Africa to strengthen its food security, so she developed these strips as a commercial product which may be bought from any local grocery store.


These are just a few of our social entrepreneurs who are leading the way in a new style of business. We need to learn all we can from them in order to build a successful society. Somehow it seems that South Africa can teach the world a whole lot.  Finally, Krige challenges  everyone, “But the question I would like to leave with you is: What is it that we can learn from our social entrepreneurs so that we can continue to fast-track and accelerate our social and economic development?”


Kerryn Krige's talk was first delivered at the Nation Builder In Good Company Conference on 15 August in Pretoria.


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