Social enterprises are an underutilized solution to post COVID-19 recovery and economic growth in Africa

Stakeholders at the Annual African Conference on Social Entrepreneurship (AACOSE) have called for more focus on social entrepreneurship and cross-sector collaboration towards an accelerated recovery from COVID-19’s impact on the economy and for economic growth in Africa.

Convened by Tangaza University College and Ashoka East Africa, the fourth edition of the AACOSE conference brought together participants from academia, and leading social entrepreneurs. An array of actors in academia and social impact ecosystems, government and private sector representatives, from Kenya, across Africa, US, Europe and other continents also took part.

Social entrepreneurs or innovators are individuals who come up with innovations that seek to provide solutions to challenges that affect people, whether social, cultural or environmental. Millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to lack access to basic or quality services and goods in the sectors such as education, agriculture, healthcare and technology which social entrepreneurs address with innovative, scalable solutions. These innovators are also playing a growing role in solving challenges around equity and other social justice in Africa. 

“The ongoing pandemic has clearly shown that there is a need for sustainable economic solutions in Africa and the world, and social innovation has demonstrated the impact it has in providing these solutions,” said Vincent Odhiambo, Regional Director at Ashoka East Africa.

“Social enterprises have stepped up during the pandemic and past crises to provide solutions where normal systems have failed in the areas such as healthcare, agriculture and education. By empowering people and communities, these social enterprises are impacting hard to reach and vulnerable populations, who most often lack access to basic services. The AACOSE conference has come at a time when stakeholders in the public and private sphere need to come together and discuss on policy, financial and other strategic support for social entrepreneurs and we are glad to see representation from all the players that need to be engaged. We have emphasized on the importance of growing the experience of young people and giving them the required support needed for them to grow up knowing the potential they hold in being change makers and how they can leverage technological advancement for social good.” 

Other than supportive policy regulations and legal frameworks, financing solutions and opening markets for good and services offered by social entrepreneurs to nurture sustainable social innovative environments, stakeholders have also called on institutions of higher learning to adopt the social entrepreneurship education and foster social innovation within their ecosystem. This means taking a social problem and posing it to learners with the aim of turning it around to become a viable solution. 

“It is time for academic institutions to start partnering with governments and multi sector players to ensure that they develop the human capital that every generation will need to address emerging challenges. Bringing up a generation of learners that already knows how to address social issues around them will contribute to reducing the rate of unemployment among the youth,” said Jonas Yawovi Dzinekou, Director of the Institute for Social Transformation (IST) at Tangaza University College. “ A report by the British Council on the state of social enterprises in Kenya revealed that 68 percent of social enterprises have a mission to create employment opportunities while 65 percent of surveyed enterprises are led by youth people aged 25 to 44 years, showing the potential that they have to alleviate  unemployment in Kenya.”  

Furthermore, as COVID-19 exposes under investment in healthcare systems, social entrepreneurships have played a role to provide inclusive health care, micro- insurance, access to medicine and technological based solutions for health in various parts of Africa. In Kenya for example, Dr Moka Lantum, an Ashoka Fellow, has through his enterprise ZiDi developed a solution to enhance the efficiency of healthcare delivery in Kenya’s public health system by automating the supply chain of free and/or publicly subsidized essential drugs to rural health clinics. ZiDi is ensuring that rural households are able to access high quality treatment in a reliable, affordable and timely way. In Uganda, an Ashoka Fellow, Maria Baryamujura’s COBATI has developed a community-based tourism approach that allows people to use their culture and livelihoods to benefit from tourism. These innovators are also addressing food shortage in Africa, as demonstrated by Harvest Africa Harvest, a social enterprise that addresses challenges throughout the value chain for small scale farmers and this has dramatically increased incomes for farmers in Kenya and Africa. Through Solar Sisters, Katherine, an Ashoka Fellow, is addressing access to clean and renewable energy in Uganda by concentrating on women as key agents in distributing and consuming affordable, renewable energy products; thereby pushing women to drive change in the rural energy-space. 

Under the theme ‘Social Entrepreneurship: A Paradigm for inclusive economic recovery and growth’ AACOSE 4 has been attended by over 500 people from across the continent and the world and has provided a platform to showcase models that have proved to be successful in African countries and that can be replicated in other places. 

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