In less than a decade there has been a huge change in the way people approach social change. Young people across the world are becoming more concerned about making a positive impact on the world they live in. According to Forbes, 94% of young people want to use their skills to benefit a cause. This change in the way people think brought with it a realisation that charity isn’t the way forward as it does not provide a sustainable long term solution. This led to people turning to Social Entrepreneurship.

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship is, at its most basic level, doing business for a social cause. It is all about tackling the World’s largest societal and environmental challenges and finding sustainable solutions to them. Entrepreneurial specialist at UCD’s Innovation Academy, Dr. Eileen Diskin, believes that what differentiates social enterprises from traditional ones is that “social enterprises have at their heart a mission, and embrace core values, to do better.” This links to the main reason why today’s youth embrace social entrepreneurship, because it connects them to their life purpose, according to New York Times bestselling author MeiMei Fox.

It is important to clear the misconception that social enterprises are some form of charity, in fact they aim to blend purpose with profit. Social enterprises are fully functioning businesses that generate revenue and at the same time they pursue social goals. This makes social entrepreneurship important because it provides a way for businesses to be successful through helping others which leads to a higher employee satisfaction.

Diskin agrees that social entrepreneurship is definitely the way forward and we are on that track as people, especially students, are making more conscious choices with regards to the products they buy or services that do good. She added that, “awareness of the need for ventures that address sustainability has really increased and I really believe that we need this energy, this desire to seek out good in the things we pay for and an awareness that our choices in the products we buy or the services we use ultimately have an impact on our fellow humans.”

The recent COVID-19 crisis has left its mark on all sectors including social entrepreneurship. Even though this mark is yet to be clear, historically such national or global economic downfalls have paved the way for social entrepreneurship according to the World Economic Forum. Diskin agrees, stating, “there’s been a mindset shift about how we engage with one another and how we engage with our environment, with society, and with the world within which we live. We’re more conscious of one another and of our impact on each other and on our environment.”

By nature entrepreneurs are keen to make a difference and innovate in hard, stressful times such as these, hence we witnessed the rise of social enterprises that make renewable masks and similar products within a few weeks from the start of the pandemic. Diskin stressed the importance of keeping up this energy through what remains from the pandemic and beyond as “COVID has shown us the collective power of humans and the lovely things that we can do when we work together.”

International Social Entrepreneurship uniting students

One of the reasons why today’s youth is extremely aware of the World and wanting to make a positive impact is organisations such as Enactus, which empower students to make a difference in their communities. Enactus UCD’s incoming Team Leader, Nikita Fernes, explained “Enactus is a global organisation that’s present in 37 countries and strives to create a social impact through sustainable entrepreneurial action by students.”

Annually, around the world over 72,000 students, target the United Nations sustainable development goals and put in over 7 million volunteer hours. Fernes added “here at Enactus UCD alone we were able to generate over 3000 volunteer hours in building social enterprises and creating positive change last year.”

Every year, Enactus teams represent their Universities and compete against each other while showcasing their social enterprises in the hope of winning the Enactus World Cup. Organisations like Enactus are crucial as they give a platform for young people to make a sustainable impact and learn about social change.

Fernes believes that “the most important aspect of Enactus, other than of course the focus around creating social impacts, has to be the collaboration between students and business organisations. The partners of Enactus allow students to make their social projects grow and scale into enterprises through funding and mentorship.”

Enactus Ireland is partnered with many organisations including KPMG, Unilever, Aer Lingus and Bank of Ireland whose advisors help and support students at the different universities to build their projects into social enterprises. Some people may be sceptic regarding the actual impact students can make, however Fernes responded by saying “there is always proof of the change Enactus creates as one of our core principles is measuring the impacts we make, so we know ourselves how much tangible change we are creating in our community.”

Fernes encourages UCD students to contact Enactus UCD and show interest in joining the community and working on social enterprises such as Dilate.

Helping the Homeless

Dilate is one of Enactus UCD’s social enterprises that was started by UCD Radiography student, Padraig Spillane. Spillane explained how when he moved to Dublin he was shocked by the amount of homeless people on the streets and that as a self taught iOS programmer he felt a responsibility to take action using technology.

In order to report a homeless person in Ireland you could either fill out a 17 step form from the city council or call in to homeless services, which according to Spillane  “were far too invasive and time consuming. Dilate was created to streamline this process.”

Dilate is a mobile application which bridges the gap between the public and the homeless outreach teams, enabling the public to help the homeless with a push of a button. Once the button is pushed a message is sent over to the outreach teams with GPS location and necessary details in a matter of seconds.

Spillane explained “when messages are sent in, our partnered outreach teams respond to the location within minutes with food, drink and sleeping bags as well as providing the homeless person with a trained person to speak to in a kind, empathetic manner.” Dilate is currently partnered with  Inner City Helping Homeless in Dublin and is expanding rapidly. The app is currently down for maintenance and will be back on the Play Store and Apple Store within two weeks.

Social enterprises are businesses that have a social mission at the core of their business model. Social entrepreneurship allows entrepreneurs to fix problems they see in our World knowing that the best way to do this is through setting up a company that is self sustaining by generating profit. In the words of Diskin, “social entrepreneurship is all about making tomorrow better than today”.

Ahmed Jouda – Features Writer