Unleashing the imagination of Business

Enayetullah Khan
Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

“At the Paris GSBS with Professor Muhammad Yunus, Queen Sofia of Spain, and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo”


Social business/social enterprise. Perhaps not ten years ago, each of those terms would’ve been seen as equal oxymorons, one hopelessly propping up the other, waste gorging on waste, so bloated and so hopelessly bereft of the guile and imagination that the young find so fetching, that gets them hooked, makes them passionate, and then out of some spontaneous, unseen mixture of all those moments and interactions and comprehensions, you arrive at lifelong dedication.


Fast forward to the present day, and we’re in the French capital, Paris – specifically its leafy 19th arrondissement. The November air is cool and welcoming, and on a slightly raised dias from his surroundings at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, Muhammad Yunus is working his audience like a rockstar on his farewell tour. A rockstar yes, in his usual kurta, his glasses, the slightly Caribbean lilt to his accent, talking about the 99 percent and the 1 percent and what is ‘totally unacceptable’. The audience is diverse, yet a preponderance of young people is undeniable, hanging on his every word, in short, captivated.


In the intervening decade that we traversed, Md Yunus, the progenitor of microcredit and erstwhile ‘Banker to the Poor’, has given new meaning to the concept of social business, almost singlehandedly inspiring the movement that has now coalesced around a solid core of very distinct  and defining features. Previously almost any act of charity or philanthropy – be it the work of an individual or a commercial organization – could get passed off as social business, which itself may just have been a byword for Corporate Social Responsibility. Now we know what exactly was missing in many of those early efforts – the right shepherd to lead the flock.


By championing the spirit of enterprise that  he believes is inherent to every human being, the man brought about one revolution already in the lives of rural Bangladesh, inspiring a model that is now replicated across the globe, empowering millions through the realization of a simple yet profound idea: the right to credit.


As the power of his ideas spread far and wide, it would seem Dr Yunus too has grown in demand, with a full calendar that takes him to multiple countries all-year-round, sometimes in the space of a month only. The Paris he arrived to this month is not the same city of old, a relic to its own aesthetic triumph that fulfilled a Napoleanic vision. Today, it throbs with the diversity, the tensions and grievances brought to the boil by a population that exceeds 2.5 million. Now home to a thriving tech hub, all the glamour of Fashion Week, and being egged on by a president who rose to power like a beacon and now is governing like a rapier. His full support was absolutely vital to Global Social Business Summit held in Paris:


Academics focus on applications of social business in different sectors of societies.


“Social business is our future, social business is for saving humanity and the planet” – Paris Mayor Ann Hidalgo. It feels now like a once loved city at one level.


Focusing on applications of social business in different sectors, the 8th Global Social Business Summit ended on November 9 in Paris. The six-day summit brought together public, private and social partners from around the globe to tackle some the world’s most pressing needs through social business.


More than 700 delegates joined the summit to discuss the social business and its positive impacts on society through sharing the best practices of social business.


World-class speakers, including social business mover Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, Queen Sofia of Spain, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg Maria Theresa and UN Assistant Secretary General for SDGs Thomas Gass attended.


Social Business Academia Conference:


As part of the summit, the two-day Social Business Academia Conference (SBAC) 2017 was held on November 8 and 9 where academics from all around the world presented their papers and abstracts on social business focusing on applications of social business in different sectors of societies.


This year some 135 academics from around 15 countries joined the fifth edition of the conference at International University Campus Paris. Last year, the fourth edition of the conference was also held in Paris.


This year, 38 out of 49 papers submitted were accepted for presentations that focused on different issues including entrepreneurship and social business, social business and SDGs, social business and health, finance and social business, social business and technologies, social business and marketing, social business and education, and social business and disaster management.


There were also presentations at the conference by 10 of the 43 Yunus Social Business Centres established in universities around the world – 29 countries, to be exact – which are doing research, developing social business courses in classrooms as well as online, organising competitions for social business projects, undertaking such projects on social business with a view to mainstreaming social business within university curricula and giving students the option to become involved in social business once they graduate.


Professor Yunus delivered the keynote speech on the inaugural day of the conference, while Carine Camby from Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris made the welcome speech. Lamiya Morshed from Yunus Centre and Hans Reitz from Grameen Creative Lab delivered introductory words. A separate discussion was held on the newest book by Professor Muhammad Yunus “A World of Three Zeros” on the inaugural day of SBAC.


Professor Yunus, Program Director at California Institute for Social Business of California State University Channel Islands Professor Andrea Grove and Chaired Professor of Strategy at HEC-Paris and the academic Director of the Society and Organisations Center of France Professor Rodolphe Durand took part in the discussion moderated by Yunus Chair in Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University of Scotland Professor Cam Donaldson.


Though the 8th annual Global Social Business Summit was held from November 4 to 9, the main event of the summit started on November 6 in Paris for the first time bringing together more than 700 delegates from around the world. The event fostered discussion, collaboration and the sharing of best practices around social business and its positive impact. At the inaugural ceremony of the summit, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo thanked Professor Muhammad Yunus for his contribution to the entire world through his work for poverty alleviation, gender equality and environment.


She also appreciated Professor Yunus’ initiative to bring sports and social business together by supporting Paris to host the Summer Olympics 2024 as the first ever social business centric Olympics.


Earlier Professor Yunus signed a partnership agreement with Mayor Hidalgo and the Paris 2024 Olympic Bid Committee to make the Olympics and Para-Olympic Games of 2024 the most inclusive Games in the history of the Olympics. The Mayor reaffirmed her commitment for making Paris the world’s leading social business city during her speech.


Queen Sofia of Spain, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg Maria Theresa, Paris Deputy Mayor Antoinette Guhl, UN Assistant Secretary General for SDGs Thomas Gass and President of World Business Council for Sustainable Development Perer Bakker were present at the inauguration of the summit.


The Paris Mayor formally handed over the honorary citizenship of the French capital to Professor Yunus at the inaugural session. The main topics of the summit were food and its value, plastic pollution, solidarity and refugees, and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. A social business house established in Paris.


The city’s mayor Ann Hidalgo and Professor Yunus together officially launched Social Business House Les Canaux on November 9.  This center is the first independent Yunus Center outside of Dhaka which is expected to become a key European hub for social business. The Mayor had announced last year in a press conference held jointly with Professor Yunus that the historical building Les Cannaux will be dedicated to become  the  home of social business and the social economy for Paris.


France Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot was the chief guest at the launching ceremony. A group of dignitaries was given a guided tour of the facilities of the social business house located in the 19th district of Paris, which has been refurbished where all its decor, carpets, furniture and fittings are made from recycled materials notably ocean plastic, waste paper, and waste wood.


The France Deputy Prime Minister, the Paris Mayor, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Paris Deputy Mayor and Professor Yunus opened the newly established Yunus Centre Paris which is located in the building.Mayor Hidalgo had invited Professor Yunus to set up Yunus Centre Paris in Les Canaux when they first met in July 2016 during the Rio Olympics. That office has now been set up and Yunus Centre Paris is now a registered legal entity in the city.


Addressing the event, Mayor Hidalgo declared that she is committed to social business and she wants to make Paris as the social business capital of the world and turn Paris as the social business city.


“Social business is our future, social business is for saving humanity and the planet,” she said adding that the present system is not sustainable. The Deputy Prime Minister in his speech highlighted that social business and the work that Les Canaux has set for itself is the most powerful way to move forward.


Professor Yunus in his remarks said that the social business is like a bug, a friendly bug that infects everyone who comes in contact with it, because selflessness exists in every human being. Once a person is introduced to social business he wants to do more and more of it.


As part of the global social business summit 2017, a two-day meeting of young challengers and pioneers was also held on November 4 and 5.


The turnaround in Social Business


By 2015, it was clear that social enterprise, or social business, however you call i, was here to stay and what’s more, change things dramatically. Some revealing key statistics from the UK State of Social Enterprise Report 2015:

A dynamic movement: Close to half (49%) of all social enterprises are five years old or less. 35% are three years old or less – more than three times the proportion of SME start-ups. In terms of new business formation in the UK, social enterprise is where the action is.


At the forefront of economic recovery: The proportion of social enterprises that grew their turnover over the past 12 months is 52%. A greater proportion of social enterprises are growing than mainstream SMEs (40%).


Making a profit, making a difference: 50% of social enterprises reported a profit, with 26% breaking even. Almost all use the majority of those profits to further their social or environmental goals.


Focused where most needed: 31% of socialenterprises are working in the top 20% most deprived communities in the UK.


Operating globally: The proportion of socialenterprises that export or licence has grown to 14%. For over 1⁄3 of these, international trade accounts for between 11% and 50% of income.


It’s all about business: 73% of social enterprises earn more than 75% of their income from trade.


Stronger than ever in public services: 27% of social enterprises have the public sector as their main source of income, an increase on 2013 and 2011. 59% of social enterprises do some business with the public sector.

Innovation pioneers: The number of social enterprises introducing a new product or service in the last 12 months has increased to 59%. Among SMEs it has fallen to 38%.


An inclusive and diverse leadership: 40% of social enterprises are led by women; 31% have Black Asian Minority Ethnic directors; 40% have a director with a disability.


Job creators: 41% of social enterprises created jobs in the past 12 months compared to 22% of SMEs.


Not just any jobs: 59% of social enterprises employ at least one person who is disadvantaged in the labour market. For 16% of social enterprises, this group forms at least half of all employees.


Paying fair: The average pay ratio between social enterprise CEO pay and the lowest paid is just 3.6:1 – for FTSE 100 CEOs, this ratio stands at 150:1.


Not getting in on the Act: 49% of social enterprises operating in public sector markets say they’re yet to see it arrive in tender documents – there is much to do before the Social Value Act works as intended.


Appropriate funding and finance still key: 44% of social enterprises sought funding or finance in the last 12 months and 39% believe its lack of availability is a barrier to their sustainability. Just 5% of SMEs think access to finance is a barrier.

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