Tech for a cause: social businesses and the impact they are making on society
Muhammad Yunus, Bill Drayton, Shiza Shahid, and Jeffrey Hollender – these are just a few of the many successful social entrepreneurs whose businesses have been making a difference socially or ecologically. For many years now, social entrepreneurs have been working hard to ensure that the for-profit businesses they operate maximise the impact they make in the causes they champion.
Not to be mistaken for corporate social responsibility (CSR) – which, simply put, is the reactive nature of a company giving back to a society, economy, or the environment – the concept of a social enterprise or social business is distinguished by the fact that their main objective is to make an impact in their chosen field, and utilise the profits to further their causes. In the words of the iconic Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded model social enterprise Grameen Bank, “A charity dollar has one life – a social business dollar can be invested over and over again.”
Living up to this notable quote is an Indonesia-based social enterprise, Aruna, a fisheries e-commerce platform founded by three Indonesian youths in 2015, which has a company mission of creating a “sustainable and fair trade ecosystem for fish and marine products”. Incorporating technology into their business model, this award-winning business has benefitted Indonesian fishermen by introducing an application that allows them to sell their catch directly to consumers, removing the middlemen who usually underpay the fishermen and charge a much higher rate to consumers. Through their work, this social business has given fishermen the right to a greater share of the profits, up to 20%.
Aruna also offers fishermen a B2B option of international export, with the promise of sustainability and traceability, and the technology required to do so – this would not have been possible for these fishermen without the presence of such social enterprises in their community. As a business, Aruna has aided and improved the lives of more than 5,000 fishermen in Indonesia, and has seen revenue growth of 86 times in the first half of 2020, compared to last year. This is a significant figure, especially during the pandemic, when many low-income workers have lost their jobs and are struggling to survive. Recognising its potential in the industry, this social business, which has garnered accolades and funding, managed to secure a US$5.5 million deal in August that will enable them to further develop their technological platforms, increase their network of fishermen, and take their cause to the next level.
In India, farmers have seen their livelihoods improve through S4S Technologies, another social business that has been funded by Yunus Social Business, which is headed by Muhammad Yunus. The company’s technology has given them access to solar dryers, a patented food preservation technology. This allows the farmers to reduce wastage of their crops in the event that they do not sell, as they are able to dry them out and package them to be sold.
These farmers – of whom the majority are women – have seen an 18% increase in their income annually, thus allowing them to be financially independent. In a bid to further expand the reach of their business, S4S Technologies announced earlier this year that they were seeking US$8 million in further funding. The company, which made a profit of US$2 million last year, is expecting to see growth of up to US$10 million this year.
Social enterprises have been a beacon of hope for many impoverished and underprivileged communities, as they are able to fill the gaps that governments may not be able to in their policymaking. Given the challenges that COVID-19 has posed to many of these communities, it can be expected that more social businesses will come to play pivotal roles in preventing detrimental consequences to these communities. If anything, the two case studies above show that social businesses, with the use of available technology, are able to sustain their businesses, maximise profits, and most importantly, maximise their social and environmental impact.
IndonesiaIndiasocial businessessocial enterprisestechnology in social businessesinnovations in social enterprises