Social Entrepreneurship in the times of the refugee crisis

elzbieta-bienkowska-ec

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SME at a November press conference. Date: 30/11/2016 Reference: P-033116/00-12 Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union , 2016 / Photo: Mauro Bottaro

This article was exclusively written for The Sting by one of our passionate readers, Mrs Kassandra Petersen, former Vice-President of JADE (European Confederation of Junior Enterprises). The opinions expressed within reflect only the writer’s views and not The European Sting’s position on the issue. 

In a society and world that seems to be shaken by one economic, social and political crisis after another, social entrepreneurs are celebrated to be today’s disruptors and tomorrow’s brightest stars.

Especially projects claiming to find an “innovative” solution to the migration crisis, seem to be spreading like mushrooms – more than 700 of them alone in Germany. The variety of offered services and products is wide. Take for an example an app that is supposed to facilitate communication or a fancy boat ride on the Aegean Sea where people from first world countries come together to “philosophize” about solutions for migrants without them being included in the idea process. In the meantime, conflicts in refugee camps arise from being literally stuck, and this not in the sense of cosy summer camp conditions, while authorities do not have the manpower, overwhelmed by the amount of paper work stacking on their desk.

But who really profits from such “great” ideas?

Is it considered “social” if wannabe “entrepreneurs” are literally capitalising on the misery of vulnerable people?

But let’s take one step at a time: Who is even an “entrepreneur”?

French economist Jean Baptiste Say, said once: “The entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield”. Joseph Schumpeter identified similarly in the 20th century entrepreneurs as the catalysts and innovators behind economic progress, while Peter Drucker explained that an entrepreneur is someone that is exploiting opportunities. Seeing possibilities rather than problems.

According to this definition, they seem to be entrepreneurs. But he also mentioned that not every (not-for- profit) organization is entrepreneurial. The real struggle of a true entrepreneur is usually to make people understand how their product/ service can enhance our life, trying to find investors especially in the early stages of the lifecycle of their start-up.

So can you consider somebody that spends charity money an “entrepreneur”? Going further, only a few ideas include migrants actually as valuable parts of their teams. Shouldn’t it be mandatory for any start-up in order to understand their so called “core costumer” or beneficiary?

In addition, a “social entrepreneur” should have a social motivation. “Mission-related impact becomes the central criterion, not wealth creation”[1], the core principle distinguishing them from business entrepreneurs. There were always social entrepreneurs out there, even before the migration crisis, but nobody took those serious until it became recently a profitable business, easy and fast money to raise, no long-term view or customer-binding needed.

Furthermore, social entrepreneurship is commonly defined to achieve large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention. Bringing a profound social transformation means hereby to create a prosperous, stable and peaceful new system that is fundamentally different than the world that preceded it.

How is it a more just and fundamentally different world, if the only ones that profit are those with the “business” idea, but the core problems, namely the ongoing conflicts in the regions and the forced displacement of people, are still existing?

European Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva said about the 2017 EU budget “(…).We continue to focus our budget on results, ensuring that every euro from the EU budget will make a difference.” But to be true, the EU and donor organisations seem to spend a great amount of money on projects that are still focused on short-term solutions. And even here, decisions are usually being made by people who have never lived in an emergency state/ a third world country, studied in the most prestigious and expensive universities and never heard of the expression “making a living” so they can’t even slightly understand what the real needs and priorities of the most vulnerable amongst us are.

Moreover, what will happen to these start-ups that are only focused on finding these temporary solutions, all those apps/ specifically designed products and services after the migration wave? In which way is this sustainable? Why don’t we stop duplicating project ideas, using the already existing apps, hubs and co-working spaces etc. and instead spend money on “scaling up” on already existing solutions/ start-ups?

In addition, we should rather focus on projects involving migrants as partners of projects in social enterprises, inspired by refugee social entrepreneurs themselves while thinking about the aftermath and local development of the states of origin, rather than celebrating those so claimed “social entrepreneurs” taking nice pictures with Head of XY, Minister XY or Senior Executive of multinational XY, instead of being out there actively engaged, claiming they found a solution from far without even being in contact with their target group.

Furthermore, let’s also do not forget the numerous positive examples of organisations and projects that even before the migration crisis linked social entrepreneurship and human rights. Innovative social enterprises that have been set-up with human rights issues at their core. Let’s also do not forget about the coast guards who are out there at sea, showing humanity by giving the most vulnerable a hand, gesturing that they are equal and welcome, forgetting for a minute their protocol to make a person smile that has seen the unspeakable .

[1] J. Gregory Dees in “The Meaning of “Social Entrepreneurship””, 2001, https://entrepreneurship.duke.edu/news-item/the-meaning-of-social-entrepreneurship/

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