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Social entrepreneurship & social work

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Dear Readers,
I was recently invited to speak to students of a premier institute dedicated to the development sector. Historically, it has been steeped in a multitude of social initiatives and has brought forth a number of committed social workers. Social entrepreneurship has redefined the profile of the social worker. And that really was the crux of my talk – how is social work different from social entrepreneurship?

 The UN Millennium Project ranges from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. Also a change in approach was clear by the focus on two key terms – “Investing in Development” and “A Practical Plan”. Social issues were no longer the realm of charity but have reached centre-stage in boardrooms and corner offices around the world.

The MDGs have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the worlds poorest and has given rise to a new eco-system – Social enterprises and with them Social Venture Capitalists. Traditionalists argue that charitable support will always be required for social work while new age social entrepreneurs believe that given the right framework and seed funding, sustainable initiatives capable of large scale social impact can be the solution to the many ills that plague our society. This diverging viewpoints is what needs to be resolved if we are to work towards inclusive growth and sustainable development.

In recent times, mainstream management institutes have started to offer electives and even full-fledged programs to cater to the growing interest in the social sphere. Job opportunities, internships and projects in social enterprises have been actively sort out by the young. While interviewing students from one of the top 5 management institutes in Asia for interns this summer, I asked an applicant what makes him want to join a start-up social enterprise as against the number of lucrative opportunities with Fortune 500 companies. His answer astounded me, “Mam, never in my wildest imagination could I expect a chance to work and learn first hand what it takes to start and grow such an enterprise as part of our curriculum and not as a volunteer.”

 The question remains - how is social work different from social entrepreneurship?

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