Annenberg Radio

Social entrepreneurship shows its importance during the pandemic

Two USC student-entrepreneurs discuss their journeys into social entrepreneurship.

The pandemic has brought social entrepreneurship and its importance to light. It’s a branch of business focused on helping others. Noah Somphone spoke to USC students about how businesses can work together with communities.

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Christine Fisseha always loved entrepreneurship, especially at home in Uganda. But, during the pandemic, she realized that COVID showed a much greater need for a different type of entrepreneurship -- social impact.

I think COVID, the biggest thing that it showed, especially the discrepancy here in African countries, is the big importance of helping people and teaching people versus just giving people.

Fisseha noticed that people relied on the donations they were given. COVID took all of that away.

A lot of people had to leave the country, you know, traveling stopped and everything. That essentially stopped the different distribution channels that people were giving stuff to organizations here. So, a lot of people in poverty, a lot of organizations, a lot of like local schools were all left dry.

Just giving resources to people is a big problem. Fisseha thinks that social entrepreneurship is so much more.

There’s this big emphasis on when it comes to social impact, on just giving rather than teaching people to help themselves. Because in the long run, that’s the only thing that’s actually going to help people change and actually be a better person and, you know, fend for themselves.

This isn’t the only problem that COVID showed Fisseha. When the pandemic sent everyone into quarantine, some people around her didn’t have laptops and couldn’t access Zoom.

Especially here like going to school, for example, some kids were going to school over the radio here and that just like it didn’t work because they didn’t have the resources for a laptop. They didn’t know how to use a laptop. So eventually they didn’t go to school.

Kevin Lu is a junior who is in an entrepreneurship club with Fisseha. He sees these problems, too.

There’s this ongoing moving of digital transformation and the digital divide that’s being put in place due to so many of the inequities that were caused by COVID-19 because of the fact that we all had to stay at home.

Lu works with Troy Camp, a mentoring and tutoring club for kids in South Los Angeles. Some of these kids live in communities without access to resources that most students rely on.

Some people don’t even have access to Zoom. Some school districts don’t have access to Zoom or all of these materials. I think the pandemic has just made it, for me personally, more important to solving these inequities using entrepreneurship — and using a business means to, like, solve it.

Lu took on these challenges and co-founded a startup called Rally, a social media platform that lets users connect with issues they care about. Even though he started it two years ago, the pandemic has dramatically transformed his team’s approach.

We began to discover that it’s not necessarily about the way that we create social impact. It’s not necessarily monetarily-based, but more values-based. We’re actually in the process of pivoting more towards making it more of a community platform and not focusing on just donations, but also focusing on the actual conversations and discussions within social impact and how that can propel students to do other kinds of specific actions within the field... basically helping students understand that social impact and entrepreneurship can be embedded in their day to day lives.

Lu wants corporations to focus more on social impact because it helps make the world a better place.

They should be able to understand that that social impact has to be part of the bottom line now… I think that’s kind of where the future is heading right now, at least in the near future, when in like 5-10 years, this could drastically change.

Fisseha agrees.

Social impact shouldn’t just be something, you know, you check off. Like, oh, we donated this much — obviously, that’s really good helping in financial any way possible, but finding a way to be on the ground and teach viable like life skills, financial literacy — those kinds of skills really help people gain more social-economic skills and just be more a part of society.

At the end of the day, social impact isn’t just pouring money into communities. It’s helping people — one step at a time.