A collective approach for good

Isn’t it evident that social problems cannot be fixed by just one solution or through the efforts of the few in isolation?

Naveen Shakir July 30, 2010
Growing up, I’m pretty sure that most Pakistani kids never heard, “Mera beta, social entrepreneur banai ga!”

I’m also pretty sure that most kids in the Western world would have never heard that either. Social entrepreneurship is still a fairly new concept in the developing and developed world, and since the term is often associated with non-profit or voluntary work, it doesn’t seem to sit quite as well with individuals looking to make a significant chunk of change or parents who would prefer that their children become successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors or engineers. And who can blame them? The social sector does a pretty poor job of paying people a decent salary.

However, while heavily involved in the social sector, social entrepreneurs are quite a unique and complex breed of professionals, and could teach us a lot about community development and diverse strategies to promote social good. Their work often extends beyond the social sector, bridging gaps between multiple players while simultaneously creating solutions that change society for the better. They are able to identify where society is facing significant practical social challenges, then play the role of the heroic problem-solver by providing culturally and socially appropriate solutions to societal structures.

They are unique in that many of them work with local community members, businesses, universities, governments as well as other actors who would have a stake in the betterment of the societies that they all live in. Overall, the work of a social entrepreneur has be relevant to people and requires a deep understanding of the communal framework so that change and reform take root within a community.

As we all know, Pakistani society suffers from a number of impeding social ills, and implementing practical solutions to fix all of those issues has proven to be extremely difficult. While I hope that doing social good is on everyone’s mind, Pakistani’s often look to political “leaders” of the country to take action on solving these issues - yet sadly, officials always seem to think that the answer is getting more foreign aid.

The military, government, NGOs, businesses, have all attempted to educate the people, improve their health, etc. through their own isolated efforts with limited success. I think it may now be time to try a different approach – communities might want to start working in tandem to achieve social change.

The work of a social entrepreneur can easily be applied in the Pakistani context where there are multiple stakeholders who don’t have to wait or rely on the government or business sectors to drive change in society. Social entrepreneurs lead communities by guiding and empowering the public to become the change that they envision for themselves, and by capitalizing on the combined efforts of a community of varied backgrounds (business, governmental, non-profit, etc.) who are also interested in improving society, overall. Luckily, Pakistani’s may already have a lot of these social and communal values already instilled in them.

Generally, Pakistan is not made up of “individualistic” individuals (a concept heavily promoted in the United States) but is a country built on the importance of the family unit, including the extended family unit. It’s communal in the sense that you’re bound to find a “cousin” or a friend in everyone. Social entrepreneurs either create or utilize the existing societal networks to instill in people a sense of a greater cause and purpose. By identifying pertinent social issues that resonate strongly in society, they are ensuring that everyone has a stake in the community’s survival.

Let’s be realistic - I’m not saying that everyone quit his or her job and become a social entrepreneur. But isn’t it evident that social problems cannot be fixed by just one solution or through the efforts of the few in isolation? And yes - it’s still not an easy task, but at least there are some strategies that you could implement as an active participant of your own community (without having to quit your day job), and you’re now aware of a group of “do-gooders” that could help you achieve some practical change.
Naveen Shakir A professional in the social sector, who has an MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and is now getting ready to make her way back to South Asia, hoping to make some serious social change
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Rehan | 13 years ago | Reply great article naveen. “Mera beta, social entrepreneur banai ga!” is exactly what i hope future pakistani parents will say about their kids.
Sulaiman Dawood | 13 years ago | Reply Excellent post by Asad and blog by Ms. Shakir
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