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Residents Kibra queue to fetch water on May 16, 2020. Kenya needs to embrace social entrepreneurship to build a more equal society. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The Covid-19 pandemic illuminates one stark reality: a majority of Kenyans live below the poverty line, concentrated in rural and marginal urban areas where they eke out a precarious livelihood. Yet, Kenya has the potential to claim its glory. Poverty

Addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality, governance, the skills gap between market requirements and the education curriculum, climate change, low investment and low firm productivity to achieve rapid, sustained growth rates that will transform lives of ordinary citizens should be a major goal for Kenya.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, what is needed is simple – but that does not mean it is easy. We need a revisioning of our personal and professional understanding of the notion of the value we create over the trajectory of our lives. With this new understanding of value in place, we may then – each one of us – be in the best possible position to change the ethos that ground the governance of our national and county governments, our investment practices and the legacy of the life we have lived.

Worldwide there is growing resistance from especially social movements and civil society organisations against the current unsustainable development model. Indeed as the late South African economist Margaret Legum once observed, “Old economics has failed”.

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The distance of the wealthy elite from that of the rest of the population is undoubtedly an unhealthy one and all of us should be outraged by the effects of the current economic system. It does not have to be like this, though.

In their book, Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, Roger Martin and Sally Osberg offer some illuminating answers. First they give counsel on what not to do. They observe that while Mother Teresa worked tirelessly to address extreme poverty with the Missionaries of Charity, that is not the answer. Yes, she was a provider of social services, but her services didn’t change the status quo.

At a global scale, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity works directly to reduce the pain and suffering of the poor and destitute around the world. It is an exemplary social service provider and the world would be a worse place without it. But it doesn’t change the drivers of poverty let alone seek to mitigate its worst effects. In other words, even in the unlikely event that we elect a 'Mother Teresa', we will still be stuck in the woods.

Nor is Martin Luther King Jr who fought for equal rights for all Americans. He was an advocate for change but depended on others to implement the change. To produce such sweeping change, he needed others to act — in this case, the federal and state governments that could actually pass new legislation enshrining more equal rights. Only with new legislation in place would such fundamental and permanent beneficial change take hold. So, what does Kenya need?

What Kenya needs is social entrepreneurship. A process that not only advocates for social change but, more fundamentally, creates a new social equilibrium. Social entrepreneurship can be seen as the transformational leadership that combines entrepreneurship with a societal vision while building bridges between business, governments and civil society. But how does such leadership take up this role and act as change agents for societal transitions?

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Three components

Social entrepreneurship has three components: first, the identification of a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalisation, or suffering of a segment of humanity — a group that lacks the financial means or political clout to effect transformational change on its own. Does this sound unnervingly familiar?

Second, the development, testing, refining, and scaling of an equilibrium-shifting solution, deploying a social value proposition that has the potential to challenge the stable state.

Third, the forging of a new stable equilibrium that unleashes new value for society, releases trapped potential, or alleviates suffering. In this new state, an ecosystem is created around the new equilibrium that sustains and grows it, extending the benefit across society.

Thus unlike social service providers, social entrepreneurs explicitly aim to permanently and systematically transform a miserable or unfair societal condition. Unlike social advocates, social entrepreneurs act directly, creating a product, service, or methodology that spurs the transformation of the status quo.

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The paradox of social transformation is that one has to truly understand the system as it is before any serious attempt can be made to change it. Do Kenyans understand the social, economic and political order they seek to change?

To make a positive difference, every Kenyan needs to become a change agent and set a direction. In so doing, we must set the bar high, envisioning fundamental equilibrium change for specific, targeted constituents. What is our vision for a fair, just and cohesive Kenya? What specific fundamental changes in the equilibrium must we make?

Like the Nigerian literary giant Chinua Achebe aptly observed: “While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary. We cannot afford to just nibble and tweak around the edges. We must change it structurally and fundamentally.”

Mr Wanjawa teaches at the school of Humanities and Social Sciences, Pwani University


Covid-19 pandemic Poverty Social entrepreneurship
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