Social innovation and entrepreneurship

Developing capacity to reduce poverty and hunger

Social entrepreneurs can provide the new approaches needed to hasten the process of reducing poverty and hunger. By combining innovative ideas from individuals and investments from public, private, and civil society organizations, such entrepreneurs can guide complex global food systems and rural institutions toward their goals.

Often, however, inappropriate and stifling bureaucratic processes, along with insufficient understanding of how food system and rural institutions function, slow the identification and implementation of innovative solutions. As a result, potential social entrepreneurs lack the motivation to take action, and their potential contribution to the global goals of reducing poverty and hunger is lost.

Social innovation—meaning, new strategies, concepts, ideas, and organizations that meet social needs—and social entrepreneurship—a drive for social missions that combine business principles and motivations—are emerging as promising approaches to international development. Recent experiences have shown that introducing entrepreneurial spirit into the development process can improve the
effectiveness of intervention programs. World history shows that every society produces its own social entrepreneurs to solve their problems. Yet, until recently, organized efforts to develop and promote the capacity for social innovation and entrepreneurship have been limited. This is in sharp contrast to the private sector, where entrepreneurship has been and continues to be a major force driving development.

Unfortunately, social entrepreneurs are in very short supply in the arena of policymaking. Expanding their number and improving the environments within which they operate effectively would greatly enhance
the capacity at local, national, and international levels to address developing-country poverty and hunger problems through planning, policymaking, program design, implementation, and monitoring and
evaluation of interventions. It is high time that the public sector—and in particular the social sector—removes the barriers to creative action and provides incentives for social entrepreneurs.

This brief reviews existing paradigms for strengthening capacity for social entrepreneurship and innovation to reduce poverty and hunger. It
identifies various approaches for increasing the number of social entrepreneurs at various levels and highlights the challenges developing countries face in building such capacity.

Increasing Capacity for Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Social entrepreneurs are needed in adequate numbers in different spheres of development—that is, global, national, and community levels—to enable
the effective design and implementation of poverty and hunger reduction programs. Expanding the benefits of social innovation to reduce widespread poverty and hunger will, however, require a plethora of social entrepreneurs who function as change agents by innovating, inspiring, and implementing new ideas at various levels.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to poverty and hunger will be achieved with “business as usual” approaches. Current approaches to reducing poverty are based on several assumptions: programs designed to address poverty should operate effectively, markets should function and deliver, poor people should have the same opportunities as others in society, and they should have equal access to public and financial services.

Social entrepreneurship and innovation are particularly useful when these assumptions break down, as they often do in developing countries.
Many are concerned that the MDGs may not be reached through poverty reduction programs led by the public sector alone. Social entrepreneurship and innovation do not replace public-sector interventions, but they can make them more effective and enhance their impact on the ground.

Babu, Suresh Chandra
Pinstrup-Andersen, Per
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
Special Edition
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