Anyone who knows an entrepreneur fully appreciates that entrepreneurs are a special breed. Even the word ‘entrepreneur’ has an unusual sound as if it is a warning cry that something is untoward. ‘Entrepreneur’ is one of the purely French words that make up 29 per cent of the English language. Interestingly, the technical term is borrowed – that is, it’s used without change as opposed to being translated. Another hint of something unusual.
So far, entrepreneurship has shown us that it has a knack for being off the beaten path. Then it is no mystery as to why entrepreneurs themselves are often labeled ‘special’ – which embraces both the good and bad connotations of the word.
The Urban Dictionary defines ‘good special’ as being “unique, extraordinary”, while ‘bad special’ is defined as “mentally not altogether intact.”
Some who have been in close contact with entrepreneurs would suggest both definitions are applicable to any individual entrepreneur, depending on the occasion. Social entrepreneurs are like the catalysts for society just in the same way as entrepreneurs change the face of business. Social entrepreneurship consists of improvising systems, devising new approaches, grasping opportunities others miss, and generating solutions to change society for the better.
“I saw that poverty is not just a statistic, but a way of life that can rob people of their inherent dignity, and at that point, I realised that it cannot be business as usual,” pointed out Bernadette Muyomi, Founder and CEO, Green Agriventures.
As she spoke, she radiated an aura of stark confidence. One that said she means business and business only. It might have a lot to do with the fact that she is the firstborn in a family of four. But if I know anything about Bernadette so far, she is inspired by people and the problems they encounter. This inspiration drives her to action and is helping her to tackle challenges that others shy away from addressing.
Green Agriventures is a Kenyan-based award-winning social enterprise founded in 2016. It supports informal rural entrepreneurs to increase their financial literacy, access credit, and benefit from different values chains that nurture socio-economic transformation.
Bernadette and her team believe that every shilling counts and endeavour to make the greatest impact from every investment. “We invest in the businesses of rural entrepreneurs and offer them customised financial literacy to help them grow in a profitable and sustainable way.”
As you can imagine, for Bernadette to have found the initiative to start up such an enterprise, she must have witnessed poverty firsthand. “Without financial empowerment, people with immense potential can languish in poverty and become a statistic.” That, as they say, is where it all began for Bernadette.
Learning to innovate like a social entrepreneur requires a shift in strategic thinking. This is what Bernadette mastered and took to a whole new level. This shows how strikingly different social entrepreneurship is from the present different types of entrepreneurship, due to its value proposition and the very fact that it gives the money making a heart and a noble social cause. Social entrepreneurs like Bernadette drive societal transformations and such entrepreneurs concurrently act to address particular cases of social issues and problems and empower transformational progress throughout the system.
For Bernadette, she began to offer farmers financial literacy training, business coaching, and credit for a week up to six months. “We have seen Kenyans move from thinking Kshs5,000 is a big loan to asking for Kshs100,000,” she says, adding, “What happens in our programme, is that we identify already existing entrepreneurs, we believe that entrepreneurship has to be inside you before we support you.”
She continues, “We train these people on basic things, aspects of accounting, marketing and the legal proceedings of their business. This helps them envision a journey far greater than what they had previously anticipated.” Like adding fuel to a fire, Bernadette and her team empower fellow entrepreneurs to go out there and live out their dreams and goals.
“Entrepreneurship for me is the ability to identify an opportunity and go for it, while at the same time, having a positive impact on the community,” stated Bernadette. Through Green Agriventures, she adopted a mission to create and sustain social value. As Green Agriventures is a mission-driven enterprise, she then experienced a pressing social problem that she developed a passion for and created a career for herself while addressing it.
This in turn made her recognise and relentlessly pursue new opportunities to serve that mission. As with any forward-thinking entrepreneur, Bernadette tapped into the power of the digital transformation when the world was at standstill due to the pandemic, and now she is reaping the rewards that technology offers.
“We saw an opportunity to digitise. That is the moment we harnessed the power of technology and innovated towards a financing model which is our biggest milestone in terms of digital incorporation. It is a mobile platform where our entrepreneurs can interact, access their savings, check on balances.”
Through this understanding, Bernadette has given us more of an idea of where the “social” part of social entrepreneurship comes from. A form of entrepreneurship where a person uses business and technology to positively impact the daily lives of their friends, family, and community. Many innovators do not, in fact, realise they are social entrepreneurs. Most of the time, this is because social entrepreneurship still lags behind traditional entrepreneurship when it comes to interest and knowledge.
There is also the fear that doing good through a business or organisation means you are sacrificing the opportunity to earn capital and create a livelihood for yourself. This is not true. A social enterprise is still a business and a livelihood.
What is different is that in making money, the business owner also creates positive social change. Not only that, but many investors and grant applications look specifically to social enterprises to find projects that are savvy business ideas but also smart investments for the community. “When you see people calling you to brainstorm, it means they understand the influence of your words in their business and what they are trying to do. That is what keeps me going. Seeing people grow.”