Social networks at the service of social entrepreneurship. Technology applied to the fight against poverty

Conchita Galdón. Professor. IE Business School

1 July 2013

Social networks have an enormous potential when it comes to fighting poverty, and they are a useful tool for social entrepreneurs who seek to make the world a better place.

It is a well-known fact that social networks have transformed the way we interact. What many cannot imagine, however, is their enormous potential as a tool to combat poverty. Social entrepreneurs already know this. They manage companies, many of them startups, with the aim of generating social well-being. They want to stop injustice but at the same time they have to keep an eye on bottom-line results, and sustainability of their organizations is essential. They are permanently searching for tools that will enable them to help as many people as possible for as little money as possible, and they have found a great ally in social networks.
The most palpable example we have seen of how social networks can be used in the fight against poverty was probably the Arab Spring of 2011. As professors Allagui and Kuebler explain in the International Journal of Communication, social networks may not have triggered the revolution, but they played a pivotal role in channeling the indignation of people and permitting them to organize themselves to fight back against the governments’ efforts to censor them. Social networks were key in transforming the intentions and desire for change of many people into real, specific actions that unleashed real change.

Can social networks do something similar for social entrepreneurs? World Wide Web Foundation measures social impact of the internet on an annual basis. This indicator monitors the use of social networks and internet to distribute key information. Some of the countries with the highest rates of activity in the field of social entrepreneurship according to the 2009 Report on Social Entrepreneurship of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor are also the countries which have experienced the largest growth in the rate of social impact as measured by the World Wide Web Foundation. Argentina and Venezuela, for example, are both among the top three countries with the highest rates of social entrepreneurship, and have seen an increase of 17% and 21% respectively in the social impact of internet since 2009.

But if we look beyond mass data, there are many examples of the successful use of the Internet’s social potential to leverage social benefits. Social business Change.org uses the Internet’s potential and social networks to mobilize citizens about private initiatives. To date they have secured over 183 million signatures in 196 countries. Kiva, a platform that permits people from around the world to give loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, has so far mobilized over 441 million dollars. The video of NGO Invisible Children about Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, went round the world in a question of days and has been seen 97 million times to date.

Once more, as on so many occasions technological advances have become a powerful ally of those who are not only concerned about others, but also decide to do something for them. In the words of Professor Larry Brilliant of Skoll Global Threats Fund, “Connectivity drives change.”

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