Japan Council for Sustainable Development
Social Entrepreneurs Light the Way
by Luke Poliszcuk
Over the last decade we have seen a significant shift in focus from environmental management and social assistance programs to what is called ‘sustainable development.’ Sustainable development is most often defined as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, what exactly that means and how it is applied is as varied as the number of planners and developers that are attempting to apply it.
One trend we are seeing is a broader focus on the ‘triple bottom line,’ a term coined by John Elkington in 1994 that refers to an expansion of the traditional financial reporting framework to include not just economic but also environmental and social indicators of performance. This marriage of environmental management, social development, and economic growth (or ‘de-growth,’ depending on your perspective) has turned many of the traditional concepts underlying these fields on their head.
In addition to actions (however small or large) by major global corporations, entrepreneurs are expected to play a major role in both sustainable development generally, and in the pursuit of the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals. These include ending poverty and hunger and providing universal education. In recent years, social entrepreneurs have been stepping up to fill the gaps in development where governments and corporations are failing.
Social entrepreneurs are people who recognize a social problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Many of these social entrepreneurs are operating in some of the poorest countries on Earth.
Perhaps one of the most famous social entrepreneurs is Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976. Grameen started with microfinance loans to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans, but has expanded over the years to include agriculture, fisheries, telecom and software operations. Yunus and the bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Another example of an entrepreneur who is leading the way is Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri. Dr. Pachauri is most famous for his role as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 along with former US Vice President Al Gore. However, he has also spearheaded a number of other programs, including the Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) project run by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of India.
According to the project’s website, 1.6 billion people in the world lack access to electricity, and around 25 percent of these are in India, where 76 million rural households have no electricity. These people are forced to use kerosene, dung cakes, firewood, and crop residue for lighting, all of which are unhealthy, uneconomical and environmentally harmful.
The project provides rechargeable solar lanterns and installs solar lantern charging stations for entrepreneurs in villages in rural India. The entrepreneurs then have everything they need to start a solar lantern rental/recharging business, and access to lighting at night allows other local entrepreneurs to pursue their own businesses, facilitating entrepreneurial development down the value chain.
This solar lantern project is supported here in Japan by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies and the Gaia Initiative. For those who are interested in becoming social entrepreneurs, getting involved in projects like this is a great place to start. Change the world, or get rich trying!