FEATURED | The Philosophy of Social Work & Social Entrepreneurship in Africa
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FEATURED | The Philosophy of Social Work & Social Entrepreneurship in Africa

 By Ani Casimir & Ejiofor Samuel

Image Attribute: Source: Jack Zalium / Flickr Creative Commons

Image Attribute: Source: Jack Zalium / Flickr Creative Commons

In the great work of social work and entrepreneurship, a lot of assumptions and questions are posed about concepts, ideas and programs of collaboration, cooperation and partnership. But what helps in bringing the two concepts together and clarifies the ideas in a critical way is philosophy as an analytical tool and social work as an experiential framework for solving the problems of the individuals in their in their social existence. What is exposed in the analysis is the fact that the social worker, the business man and the philosopher of humanitarian intervention are brought together by their interest to help the society to solve the existential social work problems of the society. There is what is called the business of living and solving the problems of living. Philosophy calls it social philosophy of the common good while social work profession calls it the business of welfare distribution or spreading hope. For the average business man or women in Africa, money invested should bring tangible and material gains or returns to the investor. He invests capital to have returns of capital but the social entrepreneur invests in peoples’ lives what maybe capital or time or energy to solve their problems, to make them happy and generate humanitarian solutions to old existing problems.

The field of social entrepreneurship in Africa, though new, is growing and full of potential, but with little knowledge of what it could do to socially transform the African society in the 21st century (ACARTSODA, 1983) . This poor public knowledge is particularly unfortunate as this field seems to be bigger than Africa’s past and with promises to add a higher standard of living to African welfare system. This explains why Author Giles Hutchins states, “It… seems that more and more people feel drawn into a career as a social entrepreneur.” The field is increasingly being popularized but not as the general awareness of the renowned business entrepreneurs in Africa.

Unfortunately, in the mainstream business thinking in Africa, most people categorize social entrepreneurship as an odd assemblage so it has to overcome this significant social and popular barriers to the strong category boundaries most of the African people like to insist upon such as “You’re either a businessperson or a social worker―you can’t be both.” So it is an African problem and secondly a social category issue globally not limited to Africa. Currently in Africa, whatever is special and innovative about the emerging social entrepreneurs tends to be viewed in Africa by Scholars as the thing which has never been done before but social entrepreneurs are gripped by their clear social motive to make a difference in the world, through innovative practices. The conventional thinking is that an entrepreneur would start something new and make good his money. Social work combines with traditional entrepreneurship to achieve social sustainability and not just profit for himself. Polsky (2013: p. 3) elaborates on this special combination and identifies some existing Entrepreneurs from the developing world:

For now, it is sufficient to see social entrepreneurs as innovators working at something in between a business and a social-welfare organization, perhaps in individual cases leaning more one way or the other. In short, according to Business Week, they “use business methods to solve social problems.” However, much more needs to be said about its definition, as the inherent ambiguity you might have noticed is both helping and, in its excess, unnecessarily hurting the field (hey, I usually like ambiguity). This will be discussed later in this series. (For the definition ally oriented, a particularly good one is by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.) But looking ahead, the possibilities that social entrepreneurs can exist inside large companies that are pursuing (but not necessarily leaders yet) in sustainability does not even come up at forums. One example of social entrepreneurs is the famous pioneer of micro-finance, the Grameen Bank legion, led by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus (Moingeon, 2010: pp. 308-325), their great innovation was showing the conventional wisdom that poor, rural women were poor credit risks and could not be a viable market for banks’ financial services was wrong, and developed a peer-based repayment model. Another is the prominent discoverer, financier, mentor and promoter of other social entrepreneurs, Ashoka.

However, it will be problematic to go further without getting to know the deeper meanings of the involved concepts such as entrepreneurship and social work. Fundamentally if we make inquiries about the meaning of social entrepreneurship we would have gotten the right perspectives of the great entrepreneurship fundamental questions and answers concerning “what is entrepreneurship”, “who is an entrepreneur”, “who is a social entrepreneur” and “what is social entrepreneurship”. From these fundamental questions and answers of entrepreneurship we should move to the fundamental questions and answers of social work and that of philosophy. We would not question the fundamentals but it is enough to go into the meanings of them in Africa to understand why and how the social worker, the philosopher of human values and the business entrepreneur would come together to make a paradigm shift and compress the fundamentals into an emergent enterprise model in a manner that would manifest the concept, power and impact of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship and the social entrepreneur, though not entirely new and not well established in Africa, have challenges that compel us to question traditional assumptions and make worthwhile critique of some of its areas of practice. This is necessary because social entrepreneurs are social innovators who make things to happen in the social environment. One might want to call social entrepreneurs social workers who are into the big time social or business practice of social entrepreneurship. They bring new ways of solving old social problems or interpreting old social problems in a new way to generate innovation. They are philosophers of new ways of social philosophy and practice that help their society to interpret old challenges and problems and initiate new solutions and approaches in solving them. Africa needs social entrepreneurs and social philosophers of entrepreneurship so as to help Africa to solve some of its stubborn social crisis, conflicts, poverty and unemployment in a sustainable manner.

About the Authors:

Ani Casimir, Department of Philosophy, Institute of African Studies, Nsukka, Nigeria
Ejiofor Samuel, Department of Social Work, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

Copyright © 2015 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.
This work is an excerpt from a research paper titled -"Social Work and the Challenge of Entrepreneurship in Africa" published licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).