Sudan: Social Enterprises - A Valid Way to Harness Sudanese Youth Capacities

In a recent article entitled "Rwanda's Development Model: Could It Work For Sudan?" as published in Sudanow issue of 17th March 2019, I made this concluding statement: "common benefit and public interest dictate that wide gateways and interactive communication and dialogue channels should be opened, as initiating step, for Sudanese youths to discuss ways of harnessing their vast capacities and creative competencies in social-enterprise projects that help them become self-sufficient economic earners, with ultimate social objectives to meet the needs of their communities in the long run".

In that same referenced article I also mentioned the following requirement: "Therefore, in light of the ongoing situation in Sudan, it would be very enlightening and motivating experience for Sudanese citizens in general, and young generations in particular, if each and every political party and association should embark upon establishing an Internet website or any other means of mass communication (FM Radio, satellite channels or public speeches and open forums) through which they present to the Sudanese citizens, in detail, their agenda for political, economic and social reform instead of the tasteless rhetoric that has been dragging on, in vain, ever since Sudan's independence in the mid-1950s".

In light of the recent developments and the removal of Al-Bashir's dictatorship and radical political Islamist regime, it has become important more than any time before that wide gateways and public forums (including state TV and Radio) should be opened and made available for revolutionist capacities and creative thinking of young Sudanese generations to provide them with opportune environment to voice their opinions and views as to how Sudan's rich natural resources and great untapped potential may be utilized and employed to achieve the welfare of its citizens in particular and the good of humanity in general during the coming period.

Accordingly, this article will expand and elaborate upon the concept of 'social enterprise' and at the same time explore the realms and potentials of 'social enterprise' opportunities in Sudan.

What is Social Enterprise?

"Social Enterprise", in brief, is about finding financially sustainable solutions to tough social, economic and environmental issues through innovative mixture of profit and non-profit 'entrepreneurships'. Therefore, social, economic and environmental objectives usually constitute both the driving force and ultimate mission for 'social enterprise' schemes.

Social enterprise is relatively a new concept that has dug roots very quickly and recently acquired a lot of drive worldwide, especially in the United Kingdom and United States of America.

'Social Enterprise' concept or 'SE' concept may be traced thirty years back to one essential book by Dennis Young entitled "If Not for Profit, for What?", which presented a behavioral theory of a non-profit sector based on entrepreneurship. Young's book presented solid economic grounding and in-depth theoretical analysis of social entrepreneurship with supportive real-life examples.

Ever since then, this new phenomenon of 'social enterprise' has been getting increased attention in media, conferences and business schools all over the world. Some academics and economic experts even tend to describe social enterprise now as the 'fourth sector'.

Social enterprise does in fact represent a convergence of sectors towards a new hybrid intersection of dual social and financial value creation, which may explain the background for the emerging term 'fourth sector'.

Some experts tend to characterize 'social enterprise' in terms of addressing the major unmet needs of society as profitable business opportunities. But in making such profit, investors do not act as private businessmen in the literal sense, but as entrepreneurs with a social mission to create a social impact within the targeted communities.

In other words, "social enterprise" is an emerging field that is more about "attitude" than "business". It is an embedded attitude that allows an entrepreneur or investor to successfully engage in a double, or even a triple, bottom line by having a financial return, a social return, and possibly an environmental return out of an investment depending on the kind of 'social enterprise' initiated by the entrepreneur.

Accordingly, social enterprise is different from non-profit charities and corporate social responsibility schemes in many respects. For example, in traditional non-profit charities the focus is on a single bottom line which is the social mission only, while in traditional business the bottom line focus is on stakeholders' financial returns or dividends. But social enterprise pursues both: a financial return and a social mission. Therefore, social enterprise is about balancing mission and money in business decision-making.

It should be noted that 'corporate social responsibility' schemes emerged some while ago in the form of corporate non-profit assistance to the benefit of local communities where a corporation conducted business.

But social enterprise is different from social responsibility in terms of the sustainable financial return and the possibility of reinvesting such financial return into the same or other financially sustainable enterprise with totally independent social or environmental objectives.

So, unlike non-profit charities and corporate social responsibility schemes, social enterprises do generate income and profit like any other businesses but they reinvest such profit into their social mission, thereby creating positive social change. Social enterprises also create jobs, reduce inequalities and help to 'bring together' the entrepreneurial skills of the private sector and the values of public service in one 'blend'.

It is this 'Blended Value' premise together with the profit-earning aspect that makes the difference in 'social enterprise' endeavors. Hence, the central premise is a blended value of economic, environmental and social objectives.

It is true that the concept of 'social enterprise' has been around in Europe and the United States for quite a while, almost for thirty years now, but it is relatively a new concept in Sudan, although it is quickly gathering momentum and attracting a great amount of interest, especially among youth generation during the past three years or so.

It goes without saying that Sudan is now, more than ever before, very much in need of this concept of 'social enterprise' for many considerations, on top of which is the fact that Sudan has a high percentage of youth unemployment, as well as a great number of public health, environmental, social and climate-change issues that are in need of urgent remedies.

Social enterprise schemes will definitely open up a lot of employment opportunities and financial returns for Sudanese youths while at the same time get them actively engaged in providing innovative solutions to the problems and issues facing their community in all social, environmental, health and economic arenas.

Social enterprise is also a means to empower vulnerable groups such as women, girls and the disabled through the adoption of diversity and inclusion policies and strategies.

It is definitely a good sign that the 'social enterprise' concept has recently attracted attention and gathered a lot of momentum in Sudan, especially within the quarters of business entities, universities as well as certain government institutions.

The British Council in Khartoum has been organizing and mentoring regular dialogues, workshops and forums on the concept of 'social enterprise', which are usually attended by social entrepreneurs, representatives from some government institutions, academia and business key actors as well as youth creative thinkers and inventors.

One such training workshop was recently organized by the British Council at Corinthia Hotel in Khartoum on 12th and 13th March 2019 and was attended by delegates of some government institutions as well as representatives of business entities and a number of innovative youth entrepreneurs. That same workshop witnessed the formation announcement of the seed social entrepreneurs association in Sudan.

I happened to have a casual chat with some youth participants about how it would be beneficial if some social enterprise project were to undertake the cleaning of the capital Khartoum as a social mission, where such project would create great job opportunities for unemployed youths and generate financial returns that could be reinvested in expanding the project towards further related objectives such as environment reservation and launching of littering awareness campaigns.

It is noteworthy that there are many international organizations and stakeholders that are ready and willing to provide, or at least assist in providing, seed capital for such initiative in the form of cash or kind assets.

At the end of the workshop, the director of the British Council indicated, in an expressive tone, the British Council's willingness and readiness to outsource and coordinate international stakeholders and donors' support to social enterprise initiatives and schemes in Sudan.

But there still remains a crucial aspect in this whole process of social enterprise 'drive', and that is positive policies and legislations. Policies and legislations are mainly a government's arena; but once in place they do help to create convenient environment for the launching and implementation of social enterprise schemes.

Government's registration approval is also an important success factor for social enterprise initiatives and schemes in Sudan. Luckily, participant government representatives in the training workshop expressed their respective institutions' will to help in crafting relevant policies and regulations that pave the way for social enterprise work in Sudan.

It is also noteworthy that the British Council has a global social enterprise programme that draws on UK experience and expertise to promote inclusive economic systems and help address entrenched social and environmental problems in communities and societies in more than 29 countries across the world.

The British Council also works with local and international partners to provide capacity building for social entrepreneurs, promote social enterprise education in schools and universities, and manage international development projects that foster the growth of social enterprise.

The British Council further convenes policy dialogues, organizes study tours and publishes reports to share knowledge and best practices in the field of social enterprise economy from all over the world.

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