Social Innovation in South Africa: Fostering a Culture of Entrepreneurial Philanthropy

South Africa innovation has overcome many obstacles since stepping into democracy in 1994, yet the country still faces severe developmental challenges. Hearteningly, social innovation in South African, is emerging as a potential solution to these challenges. But what exactly is social innovation in South Africa and how does it make a difference?

Social innovation is unique in that it rises from a grassroots level. “It begins with people who actually experience, first hand, the wrath of unemployment [here in South Africa], and [who have] limited access to education and health care,” says South African copywriter for Afri-CAN, Sarah Moffat. “Social innovations work with [community members], asking them questions about how they want things done.” As a result, South African social innovation empowers communities to play a part in their own upliftment.

The value of our South African social innovations stems from the upliftment they accrue to our communities as a whole, rather than to just a handful of privileged individuals, says institutional researcher of the Management College of Southern Africa, Paresh Soni. “A true social innovation is transformational, [as] it permanently changes the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to [developmental challenges],” says Soni.

In addition to these benefits, Soni explains that our various South African social innovations can also encourage increased independence and resilience in non-governmental sectors, as they aid organisations to stabilise and increase their funding base, while also improving their services. “A direct consequence of this is that there is an emergence of a stronger non-governmental sector and healthier communities,” says Soni.

Social innovation differs from business entrepreneurship in many ways, says Soni. “A social entrepreneur is someone who recognises a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organise, create, and manage a venture to make social change,” he explains. In contrast, a business entrepreneur recognises a gap in the market and uses entrepreneurial principles to make a profit. As a result, an entrepreneur measures success in profits and returns, while a social entrepreneur measures success in terms of the impact innovation has on society.

Social innovation in South Africa is challenged by the fact that social innovators often function on the fringes of the formal economy. WeCanChangeOurWorld, an innovative online network involved in South Africa’s social development sphere, says social innovation will thrive if “South Africa’s social innovators and entrepreneurs [are] included in the country’s support structures that already exist for for-profit entrepreneurs.” The online network adds that social innovators need to be encouraged to engage in the discourse between investor, government and business groups in order to access greater support and diversified sources of investment.

Ultimately, says Moffat, the social innovation in South Africa is about creating community cohesion in order to solve developmental problems. She believes social innovation is founded on interdependence, saying: “social innovation is built on helping one another [and] creating a dialogue not only about the problems each community faces but, furthermore, how grassroots, social entrepreneurship can create sustainable, positive development.”


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