A case for social business

Friday, 9 December 2011 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Prof. Yunus of Grameen Bank fame has arrived in Sri Lanka to address a gathering on the need for inclusive development today. Well known for his esteemed views on poverty alleviation, it would be worthwhile to take a look at his latest ideas.

Prof. Yunus nowadays talks extensively of a concept called ‘social business,’ which is very important for a developing nation like Sri Lanka, recovering from a three-decade conflict that has left many communities marginalised.

One can point out over 10,000 estimated war widows in the north and east, war orphans, disabled and resettled people who need special attention in this context. In addition, the poor also need consistent attention and practical measures if Sri Lanka is to become a truly developed country.

Social business is a cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors or owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividends beyond that point. Purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company; no personal gain is desired by the investors.

The company must cover all costs and make profit, at the same time achieve the social objectives, such as healthcare, housing and financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water, introducing renewable energy, etc., in a business way.

The impact of the business on people or environment, rather than the amount of profit made in a given period, measures the success of social business. Sustainability of the company indicates that it is running as a business. The objective of the company is to achieve social goals.

In Prof. Yunus’s opinion, poverty exists largely because of a wrong interpretation of capitalism, which is largely profit-oriented. He found that the secret to helping poor people was to avoid stressing the maximisation of profit. This philosophy resulted in the emergence of two types of business: those that maximised on profits and those that could be considered social businesses. Social business is important because it concerns mankind’s most vital needs.

To put it in Prof. Yunus’s words, “Let me clarify: I am not asking any businessperson to give up any of their businesses. Nor am I asking them to convert some of their businesses into social business. The idea of ‘giving up’ something creates this shock wave. I am not asking anybody to ‘give up’ anything. All I am saying, if you are worrying about a social problem (while totally engaged in your routine business), I have a message for you, you can make a significant contribution in resolving the problem. If you put your mind seriously into it, you may even open the door to eliminate the problem globally. You can do both: conventional business and social business.”

He goes on to point out that “it is all up to you to decide whether you want to do such a thing or not. Nobody will raise an accusing finger at you if you do no such thing. But you may feel happy if you do it. I am suggesting a way which may make you a happier person.”

Would it not make for a better world if all Sri Lankans strove to achieve inclusive happiness as well?