Its a very small world

Thirty-six people from all parts of the world, including Yoel Sharon, head of Israel's Etgarim (Challenge), met at Davos under the auspices of the Schwab Foundation, to discuss social projects that may change the world, just a little. They all have the same aim: to bring about change through local activity.

It took place two days before the world's wielders of power converged on Davos, and with little fanfare. It's an event that, in a world a little less addicted to public relations and a little more attentive to what really matters, would have been worthy of taking center stage. A group of 36 people from all parts of the world, including one Israeli, met together to discuss social change and the project that each of them represents: a project capable of changing the world, a little bit at least.

Prof. Klaus Schwab
Prof. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (Davos) and founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

The Schwab Foundation, organizer of the Forum, prefers to call these people social entrepreneurship leaders. These are people who have come up with some ostensibly simple idea, which, however, is powerful enough to change the lives of people in distress the world over.

Social entrepreneurship means organizing a street football tournament for homeless youth in Scotland, and developing small businesses based on garbage removal from the streets of Lima, Peru. It means seeing to the regular and reliable supply of vehicles for health workers in Africa, so that the health services will be able to reach remote and isolated areas. Always, the idea is one that can be transplanted to other places. This, in fact, is the basis of social entrepreneurship, in the opinion of the Forum organizers: generating change through activity on the micro level. The Schwab Foundation, which brought the entrepreneurs together, was founded eight years ago by Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum, the body organizing the event in Davos. The intention was, and remains, to hold, alongside macro-level discussions conducted by leaders, countries, and companies, a meeting of local leaders, in a wide range of occupations, who have in common the ability to set in motion a process of change through activity within the community.

Self-reliance

The connection of "Globes" with this event is not happenstance. It arises from the commitment of "Globes", Israels business newspaper, to social responsibility, and is also due to the fact that "Globes" is the Israeli partner in the Schwab Foundation. Last year, after the Foundation had been put together, "Globes" took steps to locate and assign ratings to social entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurs in Israel. "Globes" published an appeal to private entrepreneurs to enter projects in a competition, in accordance with criteria established especially for the purpose. In December, "Globes" hosted Schwab at the Israel Business Conference 2005.

Davos Social Entrepreneurs 2005 - table discussion
Group discussions at the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship annual meeting at Davos.

Sixty candidates entered the competition itself. Ultimately, following a process of screening and adjudication, the first Israeli representative to attend the Social Entrepreneurs Forum in Davos was chosen. This was Yoel Sharon, head of the Etgarim ("Challenge") - Israel Outdoor Sports and Recreation Association for the Disabled. This amuta (non profit organization) has been working for the past twelve years to integrate people with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities into society, by having them participate in challenging sports.

Every year, some 7,000 people with various disabilities take part in the frameworks and activities sponsored by Etgarim. These are children, youth, and adults in whom the amuta instils self-confidence and faith in their ability to develop their skills in order to meet the goals they have set themselves. Sharon, a disabled IDF veteran confined to a wheelchair, believes that Etgarim has influenced the lives of tens of thousands of disabled persons who, today, are capable of self-reliance.

Yoel Sharon
Yoel Sharon, Schwab Social Entrepreneur - Israel: founder of Etgarim, the Israel Outdoor Sports and Recreation Association for the Disabled

The founding of Etgarim resulted from the wish to enable disabled IDF veterans to make their way back to normal life by taking part in challenging sports. The definition of disablement gradually widened, and the program put down roots and took shape as a therapeutic program in every sense. The change came about when Sharon and his friends discovered how challenging sport was capable of rehabilitating and improving peoples lives. It also resulted from the policy followed by various Israeli authorities of integrating people under their care into the program, once they had discovered the possibilities inherent in it.

Sharon emphasises that, on a day-to-day basis, it is the participants themselves that take the lead, who doggedly turn up for the amutas activities in all weathers. Sharon does not conceal his pride when he tells of the IDFs first wheelchair-bound female Second Lieutenant.

Common concerns

Talking to "Globes", Sharon notes that the Etgarim model can be applied elsewhere in the world. He himself has been invited by a multinational company to give a lecture next week on the program and on its method and results. Sharon adds that his dream is that Israel's neighbor countries will start putting similar programmes into practise. As far as he is concerned, the next stage in realising the dream is to set up a research body able to provide a scientific basis for the amutas various activities, to quantify the efficacy and impact of each type of challenge sport, and also to maintain follow-up of the programs graduates.

Sharon and social entrepreneurs like him the world over share common concerns. Most of them had something to say about how their organizations activity had expanded, and how the attendant difficulties had kept pace with that expansion. For one thing, there is the fact that a great deal of time must be dedicated to administration, to obtaining moneys for financing the organizations activity, and for bringing new elements into its activity. Frequently, questions arise about entrepreneurship versus the wearing work of routine administration, how to advance toward the next challenge, and the right time for doing so.

Sure enough, as the various groups of entrepreneurship leaders took the rostrum at the Forum, there were stories to be heard of initiatives that had grown and touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. The battle is always over finding resources. For many, the answer lies in utilizing existing resources, and frequently also in integrating business activity into the initiative.

The big risk encountered by the social entrepreneur is the impossibility of making the project economically independent and of enabling it to stand on its own two feet without external support. The result, sometimes, is that most of his or her time goes on finding sources of finance for an activity rather than being dedicated to the activity itself. Not every project is in a position to forego donations, and not every private entrepreneur can dispense with dependence on government allocations and the assistance of commercial concerns. Those who have succeeded can be very effective agents of social change.

The street football World Cup

One of the projects presented at the Forum was that of Roshaneh Zafar of the Kashf Foundation of Pakistan. Zafar heads an organization whose object is to provide poverty-stricken women in the country with micro-finance and other services that will help them develop small business initiatives. With a loan repayment rate close to 100%, Zafar and the Kashf Foundation manage to contribute financing to large numbers of women, including loans and savings management. But for these services, the women would never have escaped the circle of dire poverty.

The entrepreneurs stories reveal that many of them aspire to realize their projects through the marketplace itself, on a businesslike basis. This is apparent from the large numbers of initiatives that are based on the founding or development of small businesses, or the existence of agricultural smallholdings that are capable of providing their owners with a livelihood, in no small way thanks to the fact that social entrepreneurs have enabled those owners to market their produce without having to depend on middlemen. Other projects enable farmers in outlying regions to access distant markets.

Even though these are, by definition, micro-plans, many of the projects can constitute a basis for very large change. An example is the Cambia project of Australia, headed by Richard Jefferson. Cambia is a non-profit molecular research institute, which, over the years, has enabled the development of important technologies made available to the world on the basis of low costs that are within reach of distressed populations. The basis of Cambia's activity is cooperation among researchers in order to create solutions for poor communities in the fields of health and nutrition. The model is the "open source" model. If adopted by entities in the fields of the life sciences and chemistry, this model could generate tremendous change in the provision of health services to poverty-stricken parts of the world.

Frequently, those who are bringing about such change are unable to wait until commercial activity becomes feasible. The private entrepreneurs and activists who attend to the health and future of distressed populations and who seek ways of making life easier for them, find themselves in a constant race against time.

Yoel Sharon and Mel Young
Mel Young, Schwab Social Entrepreneur - Scotland, founder of the Homeless World Cup, talks to Yoel Sharon

Sometimes, existing resources can be used as a basis for activity. Thus Mel Young, who has a record of many years of activity on behalf of street kids in Scotland, brought to the world the idea of a street football tournament. These kinds of frameworks currently provide a home for thousands of homeless children in Britain and the rest of the world. Young told the Forum that, next September, the first street football World Cup will take place in South Africa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on January 24, 2006

 
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