In 2011, the terms ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘social business’ began to make weekly appearances in mainstream media (see recent Huffington Post coverage here, here, and here). These startups are at the forefront of the ‘new economy.’ They make money by solving social and environmental problems, and they do not fit into the traditional nonprofit or for-profit mold. When I entered the workforce 5 years ago, I mostly heard that my generation was ‘difficult to work with,’ ‘savvy with that social media thing,’ and ‘free-spirited.’ Now people see us differently. In 2011, we were the entrepreneurs, survivors, and ‘generation sell.’
Oftentimes people ask me about the future of social entrepreneurship. This is because I founded Ayllu, an organization that tracks social businesses in 80+ developing countries and reports on market trends. I tell them that right now social entrepreneurship is a hot trend and there are funders, conferences, university departments and newspaper sections devoted to it. I believe that in the not-too-distant future, social entrepreneurship will become so prevalent that it will no longer be a niche sector. It will simply be part of the new economy that emerges from today’s convalescent markets.
In the years ahead, social entrepreneurs will take advantage of innovations in the technology sector. Here are technology-related trends that have major social change potential in 2012 and beyond:
Crowd-based Models: Crowd-funding brings people together online, and pools their money to finance a project. It is a big social entrepreneurship trend, which Kiva made famous a few years ago. Now many social entrepreneurs have innovated on this concept. Solar Mosaic makes it possible for anyone to fund community solar installations in places like schools or hospitals. inVenture realized small businesses in developing countries need growth capital, so they created a crowd-investing platform. And One Percent Foundation innovated on the giving circle concept by pooling 1 percent of its members’ income and donating it to charities.
In the future, as technology becomes cheaper and more prevalent, social entrepreneurs will move beyond crowd-funding. They will use other crowd-based models to create social change. This trend is already manifesting itself in the mobile technology space.
Mobile Technology: Today, nearly 70 percent of people in developing countries have mobile phones. In just a few short years, more than 1 billion people who were formerly ‘off the map’ are on it. This market opportunity is tremendous in terms of size and scale, as are possibilities for social innovation. Social entrepreneurs are building new models: Labor Voices combats human trafficking with a ‘yelp model’ where migrant workers can rate and review their employers anonymously. In developing countries, Medic Mobile uses mobile technology to help rural health workers coordinate with clinics and patients. In Kenya, people use their cell phones like credit cards, and Kopo Kopo helps business owners accept mobile payments from customers.
Health Technology: Healthcare is one of the most diverse areas for social entrepreneurship. Lumoback, a mobile healthcare startup, designed a smart phone-powered device that improves posture and chronic back pain. Embrace developed a low-cost baby incubator to save premature infants in the developing world. And BioSense created a device that tests pregnant women for anemia in rural India, and can save thousands of lives each year.
These trends are part of the big data and collaborative consumption movements. With so much information at our fingertips, solutions are emerging to analyze and organize information (big data). And thanks to the Internet, online collaboration is creating new kinds of marketplaces (collaborative consumption).
In the past 10 years, we humans have become dependent on technology and it’s difficult to navigate life without it. Sometimes it feels as if our devices are in control of us, and not vice versa. But, in the next 10 years technology will become ‘smarter.’ It will adapt to us and become more integrated with our daily activities. Millennials will play a large role in evolving technology to create social end environmental benefits. Social entrepreneurship is our way of addressing the immense global challenges we inherited (see here and here). We will use it to shift the global economy in a positive direction.