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Social entrepreneurship drives growth in Africa and beyond

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Developing social enterprises can accelerate innovation and spur economic growth, according to Pfungwa Serima, executive chairman of SAP Africa.
Entrepreneurs are transforming business models and building new, strategic markets in a way, and at a pace, that large corporations and governments often cannot emulate. Moreover, corporate responsibility ensures sustainability says, Peter Conze, country director, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) South Africa, Lesotho & Botswana in a whitepaper on Social Responsibility in South Africa.
Conze further elaborates: “Around the world, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of their activities. They are striving to make their business decisions more sustainable by applying the principle of corporate social responsibility (CSR) within the company, in the wider environment they operate in, and in their relationship with suppliers and customers. In line with their own economic interests, businesses – small and large, domestic and international – are starting to share responsibility for the ecological and social situation in their immediate environment. Examples include the protection of human rights, drawing up and implementing employment and environmental standards and minimising corruption.”
However, small businesses often fail at a critical stage in their growth phase due to inadequate operational backbone and inadequate guidance on how innovation comes into play for them. That’s where business incubators come to help: A recent report by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and FNB’s Entrepreneurial Dialogues, “State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa”, indicated that “business incubators assist emerging companies to survive and grow during the start-up period, when they are most vulnerable. The incubation process improves the survival rate of start-up companies by assisting them in becoming financially viable, usually within two to three years”.
A critical gap in most emerging economies is a clear understanding of the environment in which entrepreneurs operate. Understanding what motivates entrepreneurs and supporting their businesses in the early stages will help the private sector set a successful path for longer term innovation and business growth, and will fundamentally change the scale of social impact like never before. Working with an ecosystem of partners who promote entrepreneurship and collaboratively support social enterprises will ensure a sustainable environment for these businesses to flourish.
Enterprise building is an important business focus for SAP, the company is committed to finding innovative ways to solve both social and business issues in Africa. The company believes the private sector plays a vital role in creating a level playing field, driving innovation, and building an environment that enhances education and entrepreneurship to foster economic growth and fosters this as part of its investments in Africa.
Nine young leaders recently participated in the SAP Social Entrepreneur Fellowship, an initiative that was rolled out in Africa and India in collaboration with non-profit global social venture fund Acumen. Ninety percent of the participating entrepreneurs believed the programme contributed to the growth of their businesses, made significant progress in developing their company’s senior management, and helped drive new innovations. As a whole, the entrepreneurs improved their leadership skills in a number of areas, ranging from sharpening their pitching skills to potential investors, to taking a more strategic approach to operations to grow their businesses sustainably.
Another successful programme hosted by SAP Africa is the Social Sabbatical. The initiative piloted in 2012 in South Africa and as part of this programme, 12 SAP employees from around the world mentored selected entrepreneurs and shared their specific expertise in areas such as strategy, marketing, IT, finance and consulting to non-profit organisations, government agencies or educational institutions to help solve pressing business or organisational issues.
“These programs herald a new way of thinking, where we play a direct role in preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs. Our vision is to help the world run better and improve the lives of people in the communities in which we operate. This is our enduring cause, our higher purpose. By transforming the world of business, we are able to accelerate progress on significant causes that touch billions of people,” Serima says.