Social entrepreneurship for a better world

A better world starts with...

Some six years ago, Professor Hans Crijns, together with around 20 iGMO members - the Founding Fathers - christened the Entrepreneurs for the Developing World forum. The forum has since financed more than 100 student projects in social profit, both in Belgium and abroad. Today, it is known as the Forum for Social Entrepreneurship and is headed by Professor Leonardo Meeus.

And...action!

“We want to make the world a bit better by transforming organisations, by inspiring people,” Hans begins. “The School does that through research, training and networking. With the forum, we have resolutely chosen concrete action since the start – it’s about using scarce resources as efficiently as possible. We want our students to get their hands dirty in the third and fourth world, so they don’t forget this darker side of reality if they later end up working for a major multinational. But, above all, we want their projects to have an immediate impact. By the time our students are finished, lasting changes should have been made.”

“Exactly,” adds Leonardo. “We don’t want to be just another volunteer organisation. Students must be able to use the skills they have gained with us in these projects. This means that they will continue to always have a business dimension, a link with entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, there is often a skewed view of entrepreneurship within the social sector.  We need to break away from that stigma. Entrepreneurship is part of the solution. You won’t succeed with public resources alone.”

Well deserved pride

“The projects that the forum has financed so far were sometimes implemented by our students but mostly by ‘actors’, companies and NGOs that are committed to social entrepreneurship, such as Asoka, Durabilis, E+Com, Mobile School and Streetwize,” says Hans. “Once per year, we gathered all these organisations together for a status quaestionis, a networking event where they could exchange experience. If necessary, actors could also complete training. But the focus was on student projects.”

Are there any projects he is particularly proud of? “The project for M-Power in India, one of our most recent projects and, without wanting to take anything away from the many others, the project in Jordan for an NGO that provides refuge and support to abused women. Our students not only helped to make the organisation financially sustainable, they also rolled up their sleeves and offered a number of the women a listening ear.”

Sharper focus

The forum has achieved a lot since it was founded. What has changed now, apart from the name? “We want to embed what Hans set up more deeply in the school,” Leonardo responds. “So from now on, just like the School, we will focus as much as possible on three sectors: energy, financial services and healthcare. This is logical: these are also three sectors with an important social dimension. Outside Europe, access to energy is often still anything but a given. And without energy you can’t build a well functioning society. Micro-financing plays an important role in combating poverty and the social dimension of healthcare is clear.”

“In addition to specific sectors, the School also focuses on particular themes, such as entrepreneurship and innovation,” he continues. “This focus fits perfectly with the forum’s activities too. Major utilities companies and financial institutions are now already looking at developing countries, and not just for CSR initiatives. Incidentally, in these countries you encounter a lot of developments that are much more innovative than those we see in Europe. We have legacy systems and regulations that were introduced for good reasons but nevertheless slow down certain innovations. Take Africa: there they simply skipped the bank-card stage and mobiles and smartphones are already used for payment, to a greater extent than here. You also see a lot more renewable energy solutions, whilst in Europe we still have to subsidise these.”

Partners wanted

Will anything else be changing, apart from this sharper focus? “We will be attracting partners,” says Hans. “Organisations that, for a long time, have not only financially supported the forum but also used it, in the sense that they implement projects for our students. We will also be launching the Global Social Project Award for the best social profit student project. The award will be granted during an event at the end of the academic year in the presence of all of the forum’s members.”

In fact, the forum itself is also an entrepreneurial project. It was able to launch thanks to the Founding Fathers who provided the seed capital. Now Hans and Leonardo want to ensure it become self-sufficient. A lot of contacts are currently being made with organisations from the healthcare and financial services sector.

“We have noticed that the impact of projects for returning organisations is greater,” says Leonardo.  “We can also offer such organisations a better, less ad hoc framework.  By focusing on particular sectors, and working with long-term partners, we can build up expertise as a forum, expertise that benefits the Founding Fathers, partners and students. And we aim to attract not only Belgian but also international partners.”

International ambition

Leonardo has big ambitions: “The forum should not remain a Belgian initiative. I would like us to build up enough knowledge and expertise to become oversubscribed, so we would need to start cooperating with other business schools, as we would otherwise not have enough students.”

“As you can see, we have a lot of plans for the future,” laughs Hans. “And I’m pleased that I can pass the torch over to Leonardo. The forum is in good hands with him.” Leonardo winks: “Oh, but I hope you stay involved for a very long time to come!”

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