… with pride and passion
It is evident that “place” is central to the construction, maintenance and representation of social differences and divisions. Not only are our chances and opportunities in life influenced by where we live but so too is our access to education, employment and health care. Our direct environment shapes our lives and the paradigms of the surrounding culture and prevailing attitudes may act either restrictively or become growth-enhancing as the case may be.
It was in order to counter such social inequalities and promote entrepreneurial solutions with a clear impact at the grassroots level that Klaus and Hilde Schwab created the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 1998.
An unwavering belief
Thirteen years on, Hilde Schwab’s enthusiasm is as compelling as ever and her dedication unequivocal, and one is immediately impressed by her zeal, integrity and commitment. She demonstrates and shares the very traits the Foundation expects of their social entrepreneurs – an unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development, and a driving passion to make that happen.
Speaking about the present economic situation worldwide, Mrs Schwab mentions a two-speed recovery. Paradoxically, the countries that felt the recent turbulences the least are the developing countries. However, the current crisis has repercussions on all markets and those dependent largely on external support are feeling the domino effect, whereby governments and donors are less generous in times of economic instability.
Now more than ever, innovation in social entrepreneurship is necessary. “The challenge facing us today is to create jobs, in emerging markets as well as in developed countries,” she explains. “In the US, unemployment rates have reached a staggering 10%. Young people need to be given the possibility to acquire the know-how to become self-employed and learn how to create their own organizations, whether it be commercial or in the social field. In Egypt and Mexico alone there are one million new people entering the job market yearly – so how do we face that? How do we deal with such a problem?”
There is a healthy impatience in Hilde Schwab’s voice and she is passionate when speaking of the Foundation’s collaboration with entrepreneurs who are resourceful enough to find solutions.
From sniffer rats to bikers
The list of exemplary social entrepreneurs is long, covering varying areas of expertise. A few examples provide an illustrious view of the Foundation’s farreaching scope: from sniffer rats trained in Tanzania to detect landmines, with a sign at the entrance of the headquarters reading “Vapour Detection Technology”, to Gram Vikas who runs a project dedicated to the installation of safe water pipes and proper sanitary systems (appropriately named, “Houses of Dignity”) for improving the quality of life for poor and marginalized communities in rural India, and the philanthropist and businessman, José Ignacio Avalos Hernández, who tirelessly takes up the battle against malnutrition, a major problem in outback Mexico.
In mentioning other examples of how social entrepreneurship has been instrumental in constructing networks and helping to create jobs – living proof of where theory meets practical application – Mrs Schwab adds, “In Jordan, Soraya Salti, who is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum as well as a Social Entrepreneur, has set up an organization, IGNAZ, to help young people entering the job market. She offers an award across forty Arab countries and thus motivates young people in their teens to create their own businesses.”
“Riders for Health” is another entrepreneurial organization that illustrates the type of need-based support the Foundation members offer so brilliantly. Mrs Schwab recounts the story of a motorcycling couple who, while riding through Africa, frequently noticed broken vehicles and spare parts lying forlorn on the roadside. Encountering villages that have practically no medical facilities, an idea was born and the couple set up motorbike maintenance workshops, teaching the locals how to ride their bikes safely and how to repair them. By ensuring health workers have access to vehicles that never break down, “Riders for Health” is now making sure millions of people across Africa receive regular, reliable health care in remote villages.
Thinking globally while acting locally
“Another area of importance is sustainability,” Mrs Schwab says. “Resources and resource management – energy, water, food. More than 50% of food perishes during transportation and that’s a scandal!” Here, too, she cites additional innovative examples of how technological science is helping – mobile phones offer farmers and fishermen valuable access to information as to where to ship their ware, permitting them immediate access to the market price.
Thinking globally and acting locally has also been conducive to establishing models whereby perishables do not have to travel enormous distances.
Enabling supportive networks
As social capital is mainly generated “through relationships with others and through links with influential groups’’ (P. Bourdieu, 1986), creating sustainable networks and offering specialized learning possibilities must be seen as an integral part of any venture that has at its core the vision of alleviating social inequalities.
The World Economic Forum and the Schwab Foundation work in close partnership to provide social entrepreneurs with a platform to demonstrate their role in today’s society. The Foundation has also channelled more than 50 scholarships for executive education courses at leading universities to its social entrepreneurs and enabled pro bono consulting and legal support.
Each year in more than 20 countries, an eminent national jury grants a “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” award and a selection takes place as well in five regions of the world. The criteria for selection are rigorous and the most accomplished candidates must prove their project worthy on several different levels, among them, innovation, sustainability and direct social impact.
The annual, “Crystal Award” is equally prestigious, bestowed upon artists who excel not only in their own field but have also made a substantial contribution to society as well. The recipients of the 2010 Crystal Award were José Carreras and Robert De Niro.
“We always speak of the World Economic Forum as a multi-stakeholder organization. Two of these stakeholders are arts and cultural leaders,” Hilde Schwab points out. “Cultural leaders have been integrated since the 1980s. Part of the programme involves calling upon painters, architects, writers and philosophers and bringing them to the discussion table with politicians, scientists and business people.” This is a commendable gesture, an authentic endeavour to find creative solutions to the world’s problems.
Speaking with Hilde Schwab is uplifting and encouraging. A remarkable woman, whose Foundation is helping people all around the world make it a better place for everyone – in spite of where they happen to have been born.
by Frances Vetter