Social enterprises play a critical role in addressing many of the world’s socio-economic challenges by uplifting communities, accelerating progress and creating job opportunities – and technology plays a key role in helping to increase their impact and scale. This was a major talking point at the Social Enterprise World Forum 2019 (SEWF) which took place in Addis Ababa last week.
Since the first SEWF in 2008, the notion of social enterprise has grown into a truly global phenomenon. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s (GEM) Social Entrepreneurship Report, around 3.2% of the world’s population is starting social ventures. In Africa, according to the British Council, co-operatives account for 45% of Kenya’s GDP, generating more money than either public or private sectors.
While governments may be responsible for creating the right conditions and legislation to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, corporations like SAP are in a unique position to contribute. “SAP’s CSR strategy is tied closely to its business promise: we innovate to help our customers run at their best. In this context, we help social enterprises realize their vision and accelerate their impact. Our efforts range from partnerships and programs that focus on early stage innovation and new ventures, to accelerating and scaling mature social enterprises,” explains Alexandra van der Ploeg, Global Head of CSR at SAP.
SEWF’s partnership with SAP, which was announced at the 2018 World Forum, is expected to play a significant role in providing more social enterprises with technology platforms, skilled talent and access to markets that they need to be successful.
“Ethiopia, which hosted this year’s SEWF, is a great example,” adds van der Ploeg. “The social enterprise sector is a young and women-led movement. There are more than 55,000 social enterprises in the country and half of social enterprise leaders are aged under 35. Women lead over a quarter (28%) of social enterprises, compared to leading just 4.5% of mainstream Ethiopian businesses, so it’s clear to see how this sector is addressing both youth and women employability.”
One way in which SAP has been demonstrating support for African social enterprises is through its global social sabbatical program, a portfolio of pro-bono volunteering assignments where highly diverse teams of SAP employees provide their skills and business expertise in the service of social enterprises and non-profit organisations. Africa has been one of the largest recipients of this capacity building program with 278 employees contributing over 88,000 hours across 13 countries, with an estimated impact on 1.4 Million beneficiaries. Ahead of this year’s Forum, five teams of volunteers participated in the third social sabbatical in Ethiopia, with all teams supporting social enterprises – ranging from those addressing digital skills to infant nutrition to women empowerment.
Cathy Smith, the managing director of SAP Africa, speaking at SEWF in Addis Ababa, said social enterprises had a critical role to play on the African continent by tackling inequality, engaging traditional knowledge and indigenous resources, and connecting rural women to global markets.
“It’s significant for this year’s SEWF to have been hosted in Africa. Social entrepreneurs are driving some of the most innovative approaches to solving socio-economic challenges on the continent, but they often lack market access, which limits their capacity to build thriving businesses and create a lasting positive impact. If we help them to run better businesses, we essentially accelerate the social impact they have,” said Smith. “While our focus has traditionally been on digital skills and capacity building, we are now turning our attention to social procurement. The global digital marketplace for B2B commerce is worth trillions of Dollars annually, and the majority of these B2B transactions are managed through the SAP Ariba Network. This provides a unique opportunity for SAP to expand our approach in the social enterprise space and I am incredibly excited about how this will evolve on the Continent”.