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Business for Good: Women-led Social Enterprises in Africa and the Middle East

Traditional Maasai Beaded Jewelry, Sidai Designs, TanzaniaTraditional Maasai Beaded Jewelry, Sidai Designs, Tanzani
What is a Social Enterprise?

A social enterprise is an organization with two primary and interlinked goals: to generate revenue, and to achieve positive social or environmental outcomes. In attempting to balance profit generation with social goals, a social enterprise straddles the private and volunteer sectors.1

The social enterprise sector has been growing globally in prominence and size, and may be changing the way business and philanthropy operate. Forbes observes that philanthropy has traditionally been dominated by wealthy men, but social entrepreneurship is well-suited to those who prioritize an interconnected view of the world, where economic considerations are balanced with the well-being of communities. Women areCreating functional art pieces at Rarity Handbags, South Africa Creating functional art pieces at Rarity Handbags, South Africa highly visible in social enterprises, attaining leadership positions twice as often in these, compared to traditional businesses.2

Many women-led social enterprises contribute significantly to the social and economic performance of their countries as they work with hundreds – in some cases thousands – of people, providing fair wages, healthcare and educational support, as well as local environmental protection measures.

Social Enterprises in Emerging Economies
In emerging economies, social enterprises are battling environmental and social problems with an eye to long-term sustainability. International donors, governments and non-profit organizations play a vital role in providing education, health services, environmental support and countless other essential services. These efforts have improved the quality of people’s lives enormously: global extreme poverty has dropped by more than two-thirds since 1990; 92 percent of children worldwide now complete primary school; and 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved water sources since 1990.3 However, much work remains to be done to support vulnerable households, protect fragile environments and increase global food security.
Traditional argan nut processing, Errtaj Company, Morocco Traditional argan nut processing, Errtaj Company, Morocco
Social enterprises tackle community-level problems, while simultaneously generating the income with which to address these issues – a sort of social and economic yin-yang, where the profit motive is intertwined with solving a social crisis. Social enterprises redirect profit into improving lives, creating a virtuous cycle.

Craft & Natural Cosmetics: Impact Sectors for Women
MEDA recently released a paper, in cooperation with Trade + Impact, on women-led social enterprises in the craft and natural cosmetics sectors.

These two sectors are extremely important for women in emerging economies because of the current and future opportunities they offer. Both sectors are large, employing enormous numbers of women. The craft sector, focusing on local craftsmanship and materials, is estimated to be the second largest employer in the developing world after agriculture.4 In India alone, artisanal fashion – weaving and textiles – employs an estimated 34.5 million artisans.5
Traditional Maasai beaded jewelry, Sidai Designs, Traditional Maasai beaded jewelry, Sidai Designs
Though definitions vary, natural cosmetics generally include those made from naturally occurring materials, with minimal processing. Argan oil from Morocco, marula oil from southern Africa and moringa, native to India and now found in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, are becoming mainstays of the natural cosmetics industry. Approximately 16 million women in rural East and West Africa work in the shea industry alone.6 Despite the scale of the industries, however, craft and natural cosmetics businesses are seldom recognized as drivers of economic growth.

Read more about some of the remarkable women running craft and natural cosmetic social enterprises in Africa and the Middle East here:

Their Stories - Women Led Social Entrepreneurship in Africa and the Middle East

Check out the Trade + Impact website here


1 Adapted from Investopedia
Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, “Can Women Lead The Social Enterprise Revolution?” Forbes, October 17, 2013.
3 The World Bank Group. World Development Indicators, 2016.
4 The Aspen Institute Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, Annual Impact Report 2014
5 Rahul Mishra, “Business of Fashion” September 2014
6 Sharon Kellman Yett, “USAID Helps the Shea Industry Grow” March 2015

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