Global leaders throw down the gauntlet to social entrepreneurs

Government ministers from Ghana, Taiwan and Scotland cite Africa’s youth bulge, an increasingly ageing population and levels of public awareness as the key challenges facing the social enterprise sector.

At the opening of the eighth annual Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Milan each of the leaders were asked by founder of Fundación Paraguaya Martin Burt to state what they believed were the greatest opportunities and challenges facing social enterprises in the next decade. 

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish minister for Europe and international development, said: “I think the biggest challenge when I look into the next 10 years… is that it comes to be the normal model of business. People view social enterprise as a nice add on – it’s often seen as a nice thing to do if you can afford to or understand how to.”

Sitting alongside Yousaf, Dr Joyce Yen Feng, a minister without portfolio in the Taiwanese government stated that one of the main challenges holding back the development of the sector in Taiwan was the government’s disjointed approach to tackling social issues.

She said: “My frustration is that since I am in the government now, I know there are a lot of resources from government that can help social entrepreneurs working in civil society. The problem is that there are silos – the government units don’t collaborate with each other.”

Whilst there are a number of challenges and barriers the sector needs to address, the government representatives also spoke of the social issues that provide the greatest opportunity for social enterprises to solve using a market-led approach.

Minister of trade and industry and former minister of education in Ghana Ekwow Spio-Garbrah urged more social entrepreneurs to consider setting up formal partnerships or franchising their enterprises on the African continent. 

He said: “The biggest problem in Ghana, as well as in most parts of Africa, is the youth bulge that is coming up… we’re going to have a continent where more than 50% of the population is less than 25 years old. We need to get the youth to think more about social enterprise.”

Facing the opposite social challenge, Dr Yen Feng said that Taiwan’s ageing population provided one of the greatest opportunities for social entrepreneurs to launch financially viable social ventures. “Older people are not problems, they are resourceful, compassionate, and they are consumers so pay attention to what they need in society,” she said. 

The ministers followed a keynote speech by Michael Green on the Social Progress Index, which measures a country’s progress on a number of indicators, from gender equality to levels of education, that go beyond simply looking at a country’s GDP.

Martin Burt told over 700 delegates: “Originally it was the private sector’s responsibility to provide goods and services, and for the government to regulate those goods and services when the private sector did not deliver. 

“But the world has changed and while GDP is still interesting and relevant, it is incomplete.”

Green and Burt are just two of the speakers at this year's event, which is being organised by international NGO ACRA-CCS. This year is the final forum to be chaired by head of Social Enterprise UK CEO Peter Holbrook MBE. To read about the legacy of the SEWF, which has been hosted in a number of locations around the world including Seoul, Sydney and Edinburgh, click here.


The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) was developed and first launched by CEIS – a leading authority in the social enterprise sector and the largest Third Sector business support provider in Scotland. This year the SEWF has been organised by ACRA-CCS and is taking place between the 1st and 3rd of July in Milan, Italy. To find out more, click here.

Header photo: Castello Sforzesco, Milan