Doing business for change

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KUALA LUMPUR: The Global Social Business Summit (GSBS) 2013 concluded last Saturday after three days of intense discussions centred on how businesses can be used to bring about significant social changes.

This is the first time Malaysia has hosted the summit, and the fact that Malaysia’s youth advocacy group MyHarapan managed to pull this off was a major coup for the country.

Other than focusing the world’s attention on Malaysia at this point, it also garnered quite a bit of government attention. Wrapping up the events of the first day, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced the setting up of a new RM20 million social business fund under the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creative Centre (MaGIC), a one-stop centre for entrepreneurs seeking help with their businesses.

“Social businesses can apply [to this fund] provided they meet the objective of changing the lives of people for the better,” he said. “I’m a great believer in the social business model. Business activity creates wealth, jobs and investments but it doesn’t solve problems of the community and it can also cause inequality in the country.”

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, urged Najib to reach out to the youth.

“The youth are the ones empowered by technology to run social businesses, so my suggestion is that your legacy should be one you leave behind for the younger generation, so they can change their society beyond one country,” Yunus said.

He was not slow to point out the advantages of having this event in Malaysia: “The fact that this summit took place here will leave an impact on the thinking process of business people, academia and policymakers. We want conferences that leave behind something concrete.”

The sessions generated many interesting discussions. For instance, how “social impact” can be measured. Sophie Eisenmann, CFO of Yunus Social Business, pointed out that the flaw in the current methods of social business impact measurement is its short-sightedness. It measures only direct impact, neglecting indirect impact, the ripple effect the money that various sectors will save when social problems have been addressed.

But it was not only the social entrepreneurs and organisations that weighed in. Governments had quite a bit to say. For instance, Bahrain’s minister of social development Dr Fatima al Balooshi talked about how governments like hers are helping to support social businesses: “The issue of people empowerment and marginalised communities is very important, even if we are considered a country rich in oil. There will always be people who need help.”

The two main issues social businesses face are access to funding and training for their staff. Yunus Social Business CEO Saskia Bruysten spoke of a new global social business incubator fund that it launched to provide US$5 million (RM16 million) each to seven countries — Albania, Brazil, Haiti, Tunisia, Uganda, Columbia and India — to help make social businesses successful. This fund has contributors such as the US Agency of International Developments.

On the last day of the summit, discussions shifted from business to art.

“People from the business world complain that people from the world of art are impractical because they are not making money. The people in the art world believe that if it is a good thing, then they would rather give themselves for the world. It is the selflessness of the art world versus the selfishness of the business world. As for social business, it is a selfless business. The art world would connect naturally with the social business world,” Yunus observed.The GSBS will be held in Mexico next year. This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 11, 2013.