Social entreprenerus lend helping hand

Updated: 2013-04-14 09:22

(China Daily)

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They say teach a man to fish and he can feed himself. Teach the less privileged a skill and they will regain their dignity. China Daily interviews new social entrepreneurs who look beyond handing out alms. Mike Peters and Cang Wei in China and Jaime Koh in Singapore report.

Social entreprenerus lend helping hand

Mentally challenged workers at Amity Bakery learn basic skills and are happy to be integrated into society. Provided to China Daily

They are modern angels of mercy, but with a difference. Some of today's most impressive charity operators utter the mantra "sustainability" with the fervor of any environmentalist. But their focus is sustaining people.

Unlike traditional nonprofit organizations, social enterprises aim to be money-making and as self-sustaining as possible. While they do make money, they usually make less money than regular businesses, and they re-invest the profits in a related charity, targeting social problems. In China, this brand of social entrepreneurship is a growing trend.

In a 2011 study of family philanthropy in Asia by Swiss bank UBS and the Insead business school, 40 percent of respondents in China ranked the rise of social entrepreneurship as the most highly anticipated trend.

Internet entrepreneur Jack Ma reportedly told billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that rich Chinese people prefer to put money into socially responsible businesses instead of donating to traditional charities.

Ross Baird, executive director of Atlanta-based Village Capital, who works with social entrepreneurs around the world, including China, told the BBC earlier this year that this makes sense.

"I think the Chinese are among the most innately entrepreneurial people in the world. And in every country, it is the entrepreneur who can respond more quickly to meet a need than anyone else," he says.

That approach is paying off. Many governments around the world - impressed by success and less flush with cash to support social needs - have passed laws to make social enterprises easier to start and maintain, with strict accountability.

The social entrepreneurs interviewed by China Daily's Sunday team this week share that spirit and vision. Special Commune, Amity Bakery and Dignity Kitchen each have an inspiring story.

But what may ultimately be the key to their success is something beyond their own tireless effort and commitment. It's the happy fact that the rest of us are starting to get the idea, too.