Social Entrepreneurship in Kenya and India: the Support, Trends, and Perceptions from Society

This article is part of The East Africa Impact Series.

(Runners at Mumbai Marathon, 2011. Picture courtesy Flickr user through my eyes only)

For me, Social Entrepreneurship in India and Kenya is exemplified by this picture. We are all on the same track. Even though the two countries have significant differences in terms of population, both have a long history of entrepreneurship from a for-profit motive; large NGOs working mainly through donor funding and several Government schemes that are focusing on tackling poverty and other social problems. In the recent past, social entrepreneurship has taken root in both countries on a comparable scale. Despite its popularity, both countries appear to be evolving a coherent definition for social entrepreneurship. 

The citizen sector in India and Kenya has long been dependent on donor funding. This comes with a certain outlook and strategy towards solving problems. Soon, it became clear that this was not enough. From on-the-ground work, people learnt that those innovations emerging from grassroots interventions were the ones which were ultimately successful. 

It is from this understanding that the world of Social Entrepreneurship emerged. Consisting of individuals and groups who looked at Systemic change, involving communities and other stakeholders, they became changemakers as Ashoka would call them.

Who is supporting the emergence of the Sector?

Supporting networks are key in building strong ecosystems for social entrepreneurs. From academic institutions to other channels created by businesses, investors and other actors in the social sector, there are several supporting factors emerging to strengthen social entrepreneurship in both India and Kenya. 

In comparison with India, Kenya does have fewer enabling networks. Ashoka East Africa has been a pioneer in this space electing and supporting some of the most impactful and innovative social entrepreneurs over the last decade. There has been encouraging activity in the space, with the entrance of Acumen in East Africa and EASEN (East Africa Social Enterprise Network) which was formed a year ago to form networks for social entrepreneurs. 

Going forward, Kenya would benefit from initiatives like NSEF (National Social Entrepreneurship Forum) which develop Social Entrepreneurial talent in youth by engaging, inspiring and supporting youth in Universities and youth groups to start social business initiatives. Additionally, Kenya would benefit from information portals which increase knowledge about the sector. 

Emerging talent in the space:

Does education matter? On one level, several very successful social entrepreneurs are highly educated. From Anurag Gupta of A Little World, Bunker Roy of Barefoot College, Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj, Dr. H Harish Hande of SELCO, several leaders of high impact organizations come with high qualifications. Education does seem to play a role in building a successful social enterprise. 

On the other hand, there are social entrepreneurs such as Anand Kumar of Super 30, who despite not being highly qualified is still creating amazing impact. There is a whole other debate on how college drop-outs make excellent social entrepreneurs.  Even so, just by numbers alone, education still emerges as a defining factor in Social Entrepreneurship.

It thus remains visible that the factors that influence talent largely come with opportunities that are not available to certain economic, education and Social classes. This is reflective of Maslow’s Needs Heirarchy, where people begin to confront large scale social issues only when their own basic needs are satisfied. Thus as more people move up the pyramid towards self-actualisation, we see more social entrepreneurs emerging in the world. We need to think of strategies which will facilitate this process so that more people come up with the ideas and collaborate across the pyramid to create change.

Emergence of ICT as a major platform for Social Innovation and Impact

Information and Communications Technology has been leveraged in both countries to reach out to different communities. With organizations like Milaap, Artoo and E farm in India and iHub,  mLab and of Mfarm in Kenya, ICTS are being used to not to deepen social impact but also to launch and scale social enterprise. 

Societies Outlook effect on Social Entrepreneurship

The Indian and Kenyan societies are going through rapid change. Both countries are at a critical level in their development where success is seen in job and material security. Despite such role models like Gandhi and Wangari Maathai, the general perception of social entrepreneurship is of caution. 

With the emergence of social business, the space is getting better reception. This implies using market forces to generate revenue while creating social impact. In India this space is more developed than in Kenya. There are more organizations that have profit models with social impact as the objective in India. In comparison social businesses have only started emerging as a viable sector in Kenya.

Going forward, I would hope to see conscientious sharing of knowledge and resources between India and Kenya. As Matt Ridley said in his TED Talk, “new paradigms in the world evolve only through exchanging ideas, but by meeting and mating them and evolving new ideas.” Such a collective brain will show us the way forward for both regions and the indeed, the whole world. 

(This post was written by Mutembei Kariuki, Intern, Ashoka Fellowship Program, as part of his experience of working in Hyderabad, India for one year.)