The difficulty of starting up a social enterprise in a warzone
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
The desire of the disenfranchised for change and sustainable markets is at the heart of conflict. The Arab spring in Tunisia was triggered by a street vendor setting himself on fire in protest at unfair working conditions. Mass demonstrations usually demand increased employment opportunities and wages, and a job market free from corruption. Thousands of young people wanting to be heard turn to social media.
In August 2011, several months after the start of the uprising in Syria, a hashtag (#RamadanMassacre) gained popularity on Twitter. One user wrote: “A tweet can prevent a massacre”; to which an NPR (National Public Radio) journalist, replied, “Can it?”.
Social media may have a limited impact, but social entrepreneurship can both channel the passion shown through so-called “clicktivism” and improve employment opportunities that protests are demanding.
These young people are already entrepreneurial-minded, as they are driven by the determination to fight for a better future – a future that, once the dust has settled and the violent tension has eased, is sustainable. However, there is a glut of issues that can hold social entrepreneurs back, such as government nepotism, bribery, fluctuating levels of enforcement and repression, fear of intimidation and death threats. Yet it is the lack of funding and the skills required to run a social enterprise that arguably pose the biggest obstacle.
“[Those empowered to make a change] come from different backgrounds and aren’t [always] experienced in social work or community organising,” says Rebecca Chiao, co-founder of HarassMap, an Egyptian crowdsourcing tool that collates and maps data on sexual harassment through SMS reporting. It is part of the Nahdet El Mahrousa network, an organisation that trains social entrepreneurs and helps develop projects from an idea to a full-scale programme.
“They are passionate but sometimes lack the skills to generate efficient outcomes like strategic planning, or monitoring and evaluation. Many of them learn on their feet, but along the way some of them get frustrated and stop working,” adds Chiao.
With youth unemployment across countries like Egypt, Somalia and Syria still hovering between 60% and 70%, there has never been a more relevant time to encourage social entrepreneurship. In some developing countries, where there is no central government stable enough to accept foreign aid, it can be responsible for up to 90% of job creation.