Shaping the future in Tianjin
The infamous Jim Rhon – American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker – used to say that a good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.
Achieving a well-sought objective
The objective of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, under the active direction of Ms Hilde Schwab, is to identify those who are struggling to improve their communities, bring them together and help them outperform.
During our current anxious times, this objective couldn’t possibly be of a better use and the person who is taking it from the paper to the ground is a Harvard Kennedy School of Government alumnus, Mirjam Schöning. As Head and Senior Director of the foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship branch, Ms Schöning has been pushing the strategy forward since 2000.
“The foundation has drastically changed since,” she confesses. “If 10 years ago social entrepreneurship was a
phenomenon considered to be happening in isolated pockets of US universities – there were social entrepreneurs long before that but surely not called that way – nowadays when I speak to a group of scholars, 50% of them are very aware of my topic and part of them are outstanding entrepreneurs themselves – all that in 10 years!”
A gradient to the future
Preordained by time and development, the global efforts had elevated social entrepreneurship to academic curricula, essentially bringing the concept to the debate table worldwide. The socalled “global growth companies”, often based in India or China, with phenomenal growth rates, led by entrepreneurs with incredible innovative ideas in the realm of societal or ecological issues, have the potential to become the new regional and global leaders. The platform provided by the foundation is no less than a gradient to the future.
At the Meetings of New Champions, the tech pioneers and the social entrepreneurs therefore have the necessary time to tackle the challenges they face within their activities. “The exchange of ideas between the two communities yields amazing results,” Ms Schöning says. “For example, one of the tech pioneers happened to develop an efficient water filter. The price tag, though, reached 200,000 dollars.
At Davos, we had already started working with social entrepreneurs on seeing how we can bring down that price tag to make it beneficial for the emerging markets.” As she explains, it turns out that, in fact, if you purify the water 90% – which is very useful for most household uses except drinking – than you can already drastically lower the costs of such a filter. In addition, the tech pioneers are advising social entrepreneurs concerning their technology needs since many tech pioneers work on Internet platform development and different connection mechanisms, or have environmental technologies that could easily be picked up by the social entrepreneurs. “In summary, we have 20 social entrepreneurs, 20 tech pioneers and 60 ideas of what we could do to change the world.” The exact next step in Tianjin, Ms Schöning adds, would be to manage those ideas and see which ones can basically pass the first reality test. Then, as the cycle continues, by next year in Davos, “We could be ready to present some of these ideas to a group of people that would help shape them into reality.”
One of the foundation’s success stories followed a similar path. A Young Global Leader, who also happened to be a social entrepreneur, had his idea of a simple deworming tablet reach the 1 millionth schoolchild in India so far.
He basically presented the idea to a group of Young Global Leaders who became interested in it and this further led to its realization.
Casting the die for a new order
What the foundation is planning for Tianjin this year is quite in-depth, given the number of participants expected there. The Annual Meeting is kicked off with a session that brings the social entrepreneurs together, giving them the possibility to talk about their problems, compare notes on different complicated investments, discuss such things as turnover and the need for a CEO, or debate certain other issues typical of more mature social entrepreneurships.
To integrate their efforts with the task force of other communities, they join the Young Global Leaders afterwards, and there are numerous events the social entrepreneurs can freely attend as well according to their preferences.
The outstanding performers that will be present at the Meeting this year manage to touch upon a wide range of social issues in their activities. Here are just a few examples: Vikram Akula, who is innovating in microfinance; Martin Burt, who seeks to turn every Paraguayan into an entrepreneur; and Andreas Heinecke, who is changing people’s mindset towards disabled people with dialogues in the dark or in silence. The die has been cast for Tianjin this fall in favour of a more sustainable future, a faster recovery and, ultimately, a new order – “Alea iacta est”.
Article by Rodica Miron