The Role of Technology in Social Entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurs are those who use innovative approaches to social problems such as poverty, lack of access to healthcare in the rural areas, difficulties in bridging the gap between employability and unemployed youth, and problems such as lack of access to credit for women. In these and other cases, technology plays a prominent role as not only is technology inherently innovative but increasingly, it has become cost effective to deploy technology to solve social problems.
Examples of How Technology Powers Social Innovation
For instance, in many Third World countries, farmers need real-time updates on weather patterns as well as sowing schedules so that they can plan their harvest accordingly. Further, fisherpersons in coastal areas need to be intimated of approaching storms and hence, mobile based apps that can do this job are preferred. Apart from this, there are other examples such as having IT (Information Technology) enabled kiosks in rural areas in India wherein those people and the teenagers and the youth in particular can pick up valuable IT skills which would enhance their employability in future. Moreover, through the use of mobile apps, microcredit institutions and the people they finance can keep in touch with each other leading to better credit utilization as well as repayment.
The Mobile Revolution
The instances quoted above are just a fraction of how technology can help alleviate social problems. It is for these reasons that in recent years, social entrepreneurs have been stressing on using technology as part of their efforts at social innovation. Indeed, the fact that the mobile revolution has empowered the poor and the underprivileged more than others has been acknowledged by the UN (United Nations) which recently stated that there are more number of mobiles in the world than toilets or in other words, there are more chances of a person owning a mobile than he or she having access to toilets and sanitation. This means that technology can indeed enable, empower, and encompass the masses in their quest for a decent income and a healthy life.
Bringing Together all the Stakeholders
To continue the points made above, it has been common in many countries for drivers, handypersons, traders, and small businesspersons to use technology to connect with their customers as well as the other end of the spectrum which are their suppliers, owners, and middlepersons. In this way, technology allows the coming together of all stakeholders in the value chain so that everyone ultimately benefits. Though there have been concerns in recent months about technology also leading to safety and security concerns because of the anonymity and the potential for misuse, it needs to be mentioned that technology per se is value neutral meaning that it can be used both for good and bad purposes and it is up to the regulators and the users to monitor and regulate.
Synergies and Economies of Scale
Considering the enabling and empowering role that technology plays, many nonprofits are focusing exclusively in building and creating an ecosystem for innovators, funders, thought leaders, influencers, and the regulators on one hand and the beneficiaries, the intermediaries, the users, and the owners to come together in a giant electronic and digital umbrella where social innovation can take place and value created for all and society in general. The power of technology in these cases is such that it creates synergies wherein the sum of the value created at each link in the value chain is greater than the parts. Further, technology allows social entrepreneurs to enable and empower the underprivileged to rapidly scale up thereby leveraging the benefits of the efficiencies provided by economies of scale. The twin aspects of synergy and economies of scale mean that innovation and innovative solutions can reach more people and create value that individually would take time and more resources.
Email as an Example
For instance, before the advent of email, if you had to contact hundred people for a promotional campaign, you had to send hundred letters which even when they are typed or printed need to take into account the costs of sending them. However, with technology, all you need to do is customize the headers and the names of the persons and then with a single click of the mouse, all the people can be reached effortlessly and efficiently. In addition, you can reach anyone anywhere in the world anytime as well as everyone and everywhere and every time. This is just a basic example of how technology enables synergies and actualizes economies of scale.
Now consider if such use of technology comes to the aid of an underprivileged person setting up his or her own venture. Using mobile and internet technologies, not only can he or she aspire to reach a global audience thereby cashing in on the scale aspect but also offer a solution that is potentially cheaper and creates more value on a per unit of cost basis. Indeed, the example of entrepreneurs such as the Nobel Laureate and Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, Mohammed Yunus who empowered rural women in his country to finance their small businesses by extending them microcredit who in turn formed groups and reached scale and leading to innovation creating value point to how a combination of technology and social innovation can feed into each other and ultimately benefit society.
Finally, the fact that you are reading this article on a portal that harnesses technology and globalization and is driven by innovation and entrepreneurship can be the best example of how ventures for both social and commercial causes can scale up and create value across the value chain.
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