Finding entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges

Entrepreneurial Solutions to Social Challenges
Lys Mehou-loko
By on April 28, 2016

Beyond providing tools and services to scale inclusive businesses, IBA focuses on developing the ecosystem conducive to the growth of such businesses. We interviewed Lisa Hanley, the academic coordinator of the recently published ‘Entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges‘ study carried out by the Siemens Stiftung and Zeppelin University project and IRENE|SEE (International Research Network on Social Economic Empowerment).

Lisa Hanley What inspired this study?

“Six doctoral students in five countries conducted research at the intersection of social economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to contribute to the debate of entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. At the core, the study presents the practical results of the academic research which was inspired by the students, the network, and the academic exchange amongst the different countries engaged in this research project.”

How or why did you choose the countries you worked in?

“Together with the Siemens Stiftung, we sought to identify universities in Africa and Latin America working on social entrepreneurship that also offered a doctoral program. After thoroughly reviewing the numerous options, we selected the countries where the academic programs were well-established and university partners we believed could contribute to the research network. In addition, we sought countries with a vibrant social enterprise landscape. In retrospect, I can confidently say we were really pleased with our partners, particularly in regard to the enthusiasm for the subject matter and the engagement in the project –which is evident in the study.”

In what ways can enterprises develop innovative solutions to social challenges?

“Enterprises can contribute to social challenges in many ways. This study focuses on two aspects. First is the development of innovative solutions that fit the local environment. As we know there are a lot of great and innovative solutions out there, but many do not realize their full potential because they are not brought to the market. This brings us to the second focus. This study also examines innovative business models that provide access to solutions at an affordable price and/or to customers who were previously excluded from the market.”

What are some of the most interesting findings?

“The study reinforces the notion of local solutions for local problems and demonstrates the importance of country-level research. The studies in the volume show a range of different approaches that utilize local knowledge to develop policies and practices that can contribute to social economic empowerment in innovative ways– either through new employment opportunities or improved delivery of basic services. Another interesting finding relates to the importance of scale, as most projects and entrepreneurs illustrated in this volume are doing great things in local environments.”

What are your recommendations based on this research to better articulate global and local sustainable entrepreneurship ?

“As this study is embedded in an international research network, the process of learning across continents and re-evaluating research assumptions was a part of the dynamic process of the network. The opportunities for the students to come together in workshops all over the globe as well as virtual exchanges allowed the researchers to continually refine their assumptions. Probably the biggest change was extending the definition of social enterprise – as a group we started out looking into social business, but discovered along the way the need to bring in a broader concept which included (social) entrepreneurship to CSR type activities.”


Lisa Hanley is a post-doctoral researcher at the Civil Society Center at Zeppelin University. You can download the study here.