A Perfect Marriage: Bringing together development and entrepreneurship

Apr 22, 2016

According to some estimates, achieving the Global Goals will cost $172.5 trillion by 2030.

Consider that aid towards developing countries currently sits around $350 billion annually. It’s clear there is a major gap in funding between where we are and where we want to go.

Some relevant questions we often ask ourselves:

·        How can we ensure our work leaves behind sustainable results?

·        In a climate of dwindling financial resources, how can our programming do more for less?

·        How can we increase the effectiveness of global development?

At UNDP in Armenia, we think a paradigm shift is necessary.

In a constantly changing global climate, international development cannot afford to stay still.

We should be moving towards adopting social entrepreneurship principles in our work, and here’s why:

1.      Social entreprises are expansion driven from day one, meaning that they come embedded with financial return mechanisms. Adopting certain social entrepreneurship principles within programming, then, can make a huge impact on the sustainability, scalability and effectiveness of our work.

2.      International development organisations, on the other hand, hold a number of assets – development expertise, local knowledge and access to society’s most vulnerable groups, a global presence and channels for scalable expansion – that are of value to social enterprises and impact investors.

When it comes to socially-minded entrepreneurs providing solutions to societal needs, there are plenty of examples out there.

Take a look at how we are providing the visually impaired with employment opportunities here in Armenia, the provision of affordable eye healthcare through cross-subsidization in India, or tackling sanitation crises in Kenya through systems-based approaches to wastewater treatment.

The funding has also seen an expansion in this direction. Within the last three years alone, we have seen new initiatives including the Global Innovation Fund by USAID, DFID, SIDA, DATA, in partnership with the Omnidyar Network. UNDP with several other UN agencies have also recently set up the UN Social Impact Fund, aiming to pursue similar initiatives and partnerships with the private sector. 

Realistically speaking, we know that such a fundamental transformation could take a long time.

Until then, however, we could at least take steps towards adopting principles of social entreprises to improve our work.

Here are some questions to consider:

·     Rules and regulations are the bread and butter of development organisations, including UNDP. What kind of impact investment can we actively support? Or what needs to change before we do?

·     As international organisations, would our involvement mitigate, or actually increase, financial risks for interested impact investors? 

·     How would UNDP intervention look in practice?

Here is where we come in. Our offices in Armenia are developing a tool that turns small, social innovations into functioning, sustainable social enterprises, and then provides follow-up support for their growth.

Armenia represents a perfect laboratory and testing ground for this kind of work: It is a small economy, homogeneous enough to track ‘test’ and ‘control’ groups for donor engagements, and it is ripe for intervention.

If you are interested to be part of this initiative, contact us at impactconference.am@undp.org to join the conference in Yerevan in October 2016.

Through the event, we want to explore visionary insights on the future of our sector.  We don’t want it to be just talk: we will be looking at immediate programmatic developments that could be implemented today.

Just imagine the things we could achieve if we come together as development workers and social entrepreneurs. What kind of things could happen if we join our unique passion, empathy, energy with business acumen, and innovative, disruptive mind-sets? What could that look like?

We are eager to find out.

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