ICT entrepreneurship for social impact

In recognition of  World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, a brief discussion on designing businesses that have have social impact, which focus on Sustainable Development Goals.

At the best of times, starting a successful business is fraught with challenges. Creating a social enterprise, which at the very least is self-sustaining, is considerably difficult. However, to commemorate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, on 17 May, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had the theme, ‘
ICT entrepreneurship for social impact’.

When we think of “social enterprises”, charities or organisations that depend on donations and volunteers, usually come to mind. However, there has been a growing emphasis on creating social enterprises that are commercially viable, and on commercial businesses that either directly or indirectly, seek to improve our huuman, social, or environmental well being.

Capitalising a successful foundation

Cognisant of the success of the ICT sector to revolutionise the way the world communicates, and will continue to make into the future, the ITU has sought to highlight ICT’s ability to make a social impact, and the role of ICT entrepreneurs and businesses in that regard:

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), start-ups and technology hubs are the drivers of innovative and practical solutions for catalysing progress especially in developing countries. SMEs make up more than 90 per cent of all businesses worldwide, and represent a ‘path out of poverty’ for many developing countries.

(Source:  ITU)

ICT entrepreneurs and start-ups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a particularly relevant role in ensuring economic growth in a sustainable and inclusive manner. They are involved in the development of innovative ICT-enabled solutions with a unique potential to make a long-lasting impact in global, regional and national economies and as an important source of new jobs, especially for youth, in the current knowledge economy.

(Source:  ITU)

Viable business versus social impact

The ITU has challenged startups and SMEs to create practical solutions that support realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals in their respective countries. However, in a today’s world, where we are all being asked to do more with less, it is crucial that every effort is made to ensure that at the very least, such businesses are self sustaining.

Having said this, it has been widely recognised that a wealth of opportunities exist for businesses that are prepared to focus on the population at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid. Relatively simple products and services can have a significant impact on the quality of their lives, whilst also addressing national and global goals, such as poverty reduction/elimination.

It should also be emphasised that businesses that are designed to have some social impact may be better able to access external funding, and grant funding in particular, than other businesses. Donor agencies will be more inclined to support ventures that support the Sustainable Development Goals, but are designed to be self sustaining – and will not need or expect regular handouts for them to survive.

In the Caribbean, we have a plethora of situations that can benefit from ICT-based innovation and entrepreneurship. However, if solutions are designed for a single country, depending on the country, the limited population size/customer base could affect the overall viability of such initiatives. Hence it may be important to consider the extent to which a project can scale beyond national  borders, and possible help solve a regional problem.


Image credit:  Rebecca Schley (flickr)