A social business is a non-loss and non-dividend company where investors can recoup their dividend but nothing beyond that. All profits will be used to improve the products and services, and/or to increase the company’s reach.
Social business campaigners and experts from 15 countries joined Prof Muhammad Yunus in Dhaka on Tuesday to mark Social Business Day for the second time, sharing experiences of the fast-spreading movement and seeding the new economic idea among students and young entrepreneurs for solving some of the world’s most pressing needs.
Thomas Stelzer is the assistant secretary-general of the United Nations for policy coordination and inter-agency affairs. He also works closely with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on millennium development goals. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Star in Dhaka on Tuesday, Stelzer talked about what he learnt from the Social Business Day celebrations. He also focused on the challenges that lie ahead for achieving MDGs and how social business can complement other efforts in reaching the goals. Here is what he said.
Social business is one of the economic theories, which is achieving a breakthrough — acceptability. People will invest in social business more and more — with a clear purpose. People will know why they are investing in it, which is a departure from the usual way of investment.
In conventional investment, you have a shareholding value, returns and income, whereas in social business you don’t have all of that and you have to conceptualise why you are investing. In social business, the vital question will be about qualitative, not quantitative growth.
People do things they are satisfied with and invest for different reasons. For many, it is a game and sport and they always think how they can maximise the outcome of their investments. What is the reason for putting $15-20 billion in your account?
But in social business, things change. A social business investor looks for satisfaction, but you draw your satisfaction differently, not by accumulating wealth, but by investing the energy of your life in a way that makes you feel good. It is an altruistic, socially-oriented understanding of how you can contribute to today’s economy.
I think social business decisively contribute to advancing MDGs. Achieving MDGs through social business alone will be a bit narrow. But I am convinced that social business very strongly influences the acceleration of implementation.
We at the United Nations look at what works. MDGs are at the core of our work. So we look into every possibility of implementing MDGs. Social business seems to be a good option to complement many other efforts. This is how I look at it. So we are not in the business of choosing one over the other. Social business seems to work in this context.
Nobody is expected to sell his company and invest in social business. But I think it is very feasible to put part of their investment portfolio in social business for different reasons.
The conference in Bangladesh [on Social Business Day] had many participants from around the world, which shows there are a lot of interests in it.
But social business has not yet been mainstreamed in the United Nations thinking. I didn’t really see it was mentioned that much. It is there, but it is not very deeply rooted. Good things take time as we say. In this context — at Tuesday’s social business event, we saw quite a lot of good examples that give evidence that social business works and can work. This is the message I am taking over from the event.
-With The Daily Star input