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Social Entrepreneurs Advancing the SDGs Through Systems Change Strategies

By Nombulelo Mbokazi Regional Youth Lead & Partnerships Manager Ashoka Africa - Southern Africa

Discover how social entrepreneurs are driving sustainable development in Africa through the “Roots of Change” report by Ashoka. This insightful analysis highlights strategies for systemic change, addressing key challenges like poverty, youth unemployment, and climate vulnerability.

How Social Entrepreneurs Advance Sustainable Development Goals in Africa Through Systems Change Strategies

Despite significant progress in the alleviation of poverty and in promoting health and education, recent reports indicate that the international community seems far from achieving the SDGs by 2030. In the 2022 SDG report, the United Nations Secretary General has called for bold action. Time is running out and humankind is confronted with an urgent need to find, support, and fund transformative solutions at a far greater pace than ever, knowing that:

  • Over 445 million people still live in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, on less than USD 1.90 per day.
  • More than 60 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25 years. While young people represent an important asset or the continent’s socio-economic development, a high youth unemployment rate, reaching above 60 percent4 in some African countries, is a barrier for young people to achieve meaningful livelihoods.
  • Expectedly, climate change will have severe consequences on the African continent, causing droughts and resource scarcity which could well result in social conflicts.
  • Seven of the 10 countries 5 that are most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa.

These pressing challenges are extremely complex and deeply intertwined. To accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, systemic approaches are needed to ensure that the root causes of these disturbing problems —rather than the symptoms— are addressed. This is done by altering, shifting, and transforming structures, customs, mindsets, power dynamics, and rules through collaboration across a diverse set of actors with the intent of achieving lasting improvement at the local, national, and global levels. While the complex, long-term nature of systems change can cause uncertainty and upheaval during the change process, it is well worth it and leads to more sustainable change. Historical examples of successful systems change range from the abolition of slavery in the United States to campaigns that have resulted in women’s right to vote. From among those working to develop such solutions, the work of social entrepreneurs stands out. Since social entrepreneurship involves taking risks and venturing in unchartered territory, not all social entrepreneurs always succeed in scaling-up their efforts. However, their entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, risk-taking, and persistence set them apart.

It is encouraging to note that in the last few years, while the idea of systems change has gained momentum in the development and philanthropy space, it has also become almost a buzz word. At Ashoka, a global network of social entrepreneurs, we have been at the forefront of connecting the concept of social entrepreneurship to systems change since the very beginning of our work in the early 1980s. In the recent Roots of Change report, we showcase, through practical case studies of 5 Ashoka Africa Fellows, why and how these leaders have developed systems- change strategies. Our goal is to create greater understanding about systems-change within three main groups: i) practitioners, i.e., social entrepreneurs and leaders in the citizen sector; ii) investors for social change in Africa; and iii) influential players such as corporate and government leaders.

The 5 case studies demonstrate how social entrepreneurs, together with their teams, partners and beneficiaries, are:

  • Building a more inclusive environment for children with disability (Shonaquip Social Enterprise, South Africa);
  • Creating greater value for small-holder coffee farmers by changing power structures (NUCAFE, Uganda);
  • Leveraging technology and public participation to improve public transparency and accountability (BudgIT, Nigeria);
  • Prompting a comprehensive response to the stroke crisis (Stroke Action Nigeria); and
  • Increasing access to sustainable eye care (Kovin Naidoo, through his various ventures, Africa).

We invite you to take a look to the Roots of Change report here. Sign up for more information on the upcoming Advancing Systems Change in Africa online dialogues where we will discuss how to change funding and collaboration practices to advance systems-change in Africa.

About Ashoka

Ashoka is the pioneer of social entrepreneurship and the world’s largest network of leading social entrepreneurs in over 90 countries, Ashoka aims to bring about large-scale social change. We support innovators as Ashoka Fellows to grow their impact, collaborate, reshape whole systems and influence societal transformation. Founded in 1980, by Bill Drayton with the belief that the most powerful force in the world is a big idea in the hands of an entrepreneur, Ashoka was ranked as the top 7th Social Good Organization in the world in 2022.

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