The garbage crisis, the water crisis, the energy crisis… What if all these problems hid formidable economic opportunities? This is how “social entrepreneurs” see the world: they create companies with the aim to solve the many challenges that society faces. That’s how Lebanese social enterprise Compost Baladi, which provides waste management products and services, was born in 2017 to tackle the garbage crisis. That’s also how Clean2O’s team came up in 2018 with the idea of an easy-to-use chemical and physical filter which gives anyone access to clean drinking water. And that’s how Sunray Energy makes solar energy affordable since 2017 by combining solar energy with an innovative financing system. And the list goes on.
According to Makesense Organisation, which helps entrepreneurs solve environmental and social topics, in 2017 there were at least 200 social enterprises in Lebanon.
But what exactly is a social enterprise?
Simply put, “A social enterprise is a company which combines social impact and financial sustainability,” explains Krystel Khalil, Programs Director at Berytech. The definition may sound simple. However, there is currently a raging worldwide debate about what social impact entails, and what exactly defines financial sustainability.
Is creating jobs considered a social impact? How do you measure your impact? Do you have to be fully sustainable to be a social enterprise?
Social entrepreneurship is not limited to conducting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. Nor is it to selling cosmetics and dedicating a small part of your marketing budget to protect the environment. It is neither limited to being an NGO and changing the world while relying on funds, private donations, and the occasional sale of products at fairs or events to make ends meet.
No, social entrepreneurship is about having the mission of an NGO with the business model of a private enterprise.
Today, definitions of social entrepreneurship are being elaborated country by country. Most often there is no legal status, hence no legal definition, of what makes a social enterprise – which is often registered as an NGO, or commercial entity, or both. It is usually social entrepreneurship associations in each country that define and write down their own criteria.
And that’s what the Lebanese Social Enterprises Association (LSE) is trying to do. The current draft states that: “A social enterprise is a company whose original mission is to solve a social or environmental problem while aiming at financial viability and reinvesting the majority of its profits in its social impact.”
Written by Krystel Khalil
Publication date: 16 October 2018