From Nov. 15-19, 13 Global Atlantic Fellows were in Johannesburg for a week-long thematic convening on Social Entrepreneurship. This was the first thematic convening to be held in South Africa, a country that is layered with complexity, where poverty sits alongside privilege in striking ways. The experience offered the Fellows fertile ground to engage with one another on a critical analysis of what is meant by social entrepreneurship and social change and its role in society. Social entrepreneurship is a practice that is growing in popularity and often it is not clear what is meant by this concept as it can take various forms and is broadly defined. One of the most fascinating aspects of social entrepreneurship is its imperative to drive social change and transform our society.
What appears to be its distinctive feature is the use of business or enterprise to generate funds or resources to address a social problem. In a world where people and organizations are increasingly faced with the challenge of financial insecurity, social entrepreneurship is seen as a solution that has the potential to pay off and support the financial sustainability of organizations and communities. The gathering in Johannesburg created a space where Fellows who are social entrepreneurs, and others who are thinking critically about questions of sustainability, could come together to engage in dialogue, skills exchange, and explore various ideas and possible (k)new solutions.
During the week, Fellows discussed their journeys as entrepreneurs: the challenges and successes faced along the way. They also shared their insights into possible futures they envision, the “endgame” to how their interventions could move the needle towards a more equitable world. The Fellows who attended the convening were drawn from medical research, arts and creativity, public finance, youth-focused organizations, environmental/climate justice, media and water science backgrounds. They came from Indonesia, Senegal, Kenya, Brazil, South Africa, Uganda, Liberia, Ethiopia and the United States. This group created an incredible space for dialogue about the similarities and differences of the legal and policy frameworks across the world as it relates to establishing and sustaining social enterprises.
The conversations covered problem identification, product monetization and growth hacking, alternative funding solutions, recruiting board members and running boards and business models which are value-centered and include a focus on equity and inclusivity. The Fellows also went into the city of Johannesburg to engage in experiential learning with organizations grappling with questions on what social change is possible and what alternative systems could look like. Our host organizations were Gogo Dineo Ndlanzi, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), The Green Business College, Hannelie Warrington-Coetzee and Tshimologong (which also included a visit to the Wits University Health Consortium). Fellows got the opportunity to learn more about the South African context, workshop their own ideas with their host organizations as well as network with people that could help them further their goals.
In true Atlantic Fellows’ spirit, while we were in Jo’burg we invited all of our Global Atlantic Fellows who reside in the greater area or passing through for business for a meet and greet at the beautiful rooftop venue at the Radisson Red Hotel in Rosebank, where we connected with the members of our community and shared much-needed laughs to rejuvenate ourselves from the sometimes heavy task of working toward social change.
The week culminated with a walking tour of inner-city Johannesburg, with the social enterprise group Dlala nje. The walk took Fellows through Hillbrow, one of the most misunderstood parts of the city, to explore its rich history, the politics of the area and how people have made a space for themselves at the fringes of society. We finished our time together at the top of Ponte City overlooking the city as we reflected on the past week and what inspired us the most during our time together.
Photo of Fellows meeting at the Nelson Mandela Foundation during the Social Entrepreneurship Convening by Distilled Photography (Karobo).