Good evening. It is with great pride that I welcome you all on behalf of the leadership of GIBS and the team at the Enterprise Development Academy to this Social Entrepreneurship Programme graduation. It is heartening to see you come together to celebrate this amazing achievement. I would like to especially acknowledge our 31 soon-to-be graduates; Katrien from Government of Flanders who are big supporters of our work, and our Founding Dean, Prof. Nick Binedell, a major activist and social change proponent himself.
Every time there is a graduation ceremony for one of our groups in the Enterprise Development Academy, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs, as is often said, are the engine of the economy. They hold the key to economic growth and significant job creation – and in a country with our current dismal figures in those areas, we all can understand what an important role each one of you plays.
But social entrepreneurs adds an extra flavour to a graduation. Because you sit at the intersection of entrepreneurship, and the promises it holds, and the active and focused effort to solve a particular social challenge. You’re often at the point of crisis in a country – a void that government hasn’t filled; that corporates won’t fill and that civic organisations haven’t yet learned how to fill. You bring that “important stuff”, a “magic” that helps fill those gaps – creating the innovative solutions that others haven’t yet figured out, pulling together the collective to make delivery happen, and keeping focused on measurable and sustained impact as your end goal. You are the people that make change happen.
But you are working in an environment and context that’s not always favourable. You’re also often not equipped with the business skills to understand how to pull together commercially sound and sustainable initiatives or how to create change in critical social deficits that sit within a system that’s already fractured. That’s hard. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Entrepreneurship education, whether for commercial or social entrepreneurs, helps buffer the high rate of failure that exists for people undertaking the journey of determining their own destiny in this way. The Social Entrepreneurship Programme provides impact-driven entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills, resources and networks that can help negotiate the challenges of running an efficient, impactful and sustainable enterprise in a volatile and constrained economic environment. I remember my time in India, running a non-profit for people with disabilities that I was trying to transition into a social enterprise. People thought my commercial efforts was blasphemy but it helped create an organization that grew 10-fold and spread its work significantly.
So…ensuring that entrepreneurs get the education and support they need to thrive is the reason that the Enterprise Development Academy was created. It is now the centre for entrepreneurship education at GIBS having worked with over 1700 delegates thus far, in a number of industries, both commercial and social. Our Network for Social Entrepreneurs has done amazing work in not just training and supporting social entrepreneurs directly, but also adding to the intellectual capital in the sector through research, and supporting the ecosystem through hosting forums and conversations with government and other stakeholders.
As I look at the group of social entrepreneurs in front of me, and think about those who have graduated from this programme before you, I am inspired by the passion, fortitude, sacrifice, and by all the daily decisions taken to remain committed to solving our country’s greatest challenges. You, and all the other “ordinary heroes” are what makes me feel hopeful that no matter what our country goes through, we will persevere and prosper. Congratulations.