Social entrepreneurs boost cooperation to reduce poverty
By Kim Young-jin
Innovative thinkers working for social change converged in Seoul, Monday, in a bid to boost cooperation towards alleviating poverty and other problems in Asia.
Some 300 agents of change known as social entrepreneurs ― those who apply fresh paradigms to solve pressing human issues ― gathered in southern Seoul for the second major gathering of the Asian Social Entrepreneurs Summit.
On the first of two days of dialogue at the Kyoyuk Munwha Hoekwan Hotel, tackling poverty was the top agenda item.
“We are now aware that poverty cannot be solved by governments alone,” said Lee Kwang-taek, director of Work Together Foundation, the Seoul-based organization that hosted the event. “Social entrepreneurs in Asia have to solve the problems in cooperation with government, businesses, the private sector and civil society.”
Though Asian poverty is often overshadowed by hunger crises in Africa, hundreds of millions are living below the poverty line in India and the number of working poor is growing across the continent. International poverty-reduction efforts fall short of creating the systemic changes needed to help the poor begin the climb to better conditions.
“We need to start believing that Asians can end poverty in Asia,” said Antonio Meloto, founder of the Gawad Kalinga Foundation that seeks to reduce poverty in the Philippines and the keynote speaker. “We should think of Asia as a family and as partners in development so we can create peace within the region.”
Participants will forge a “Seoul Declaration” today to cement their growing network.
Distinguished social entrepreneurs shared their best practices with other participants, who came from advanced and developing
Asian countries such as Bangladesh, China, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia.
Among the guests, Anshu Gupta outlined the work of his Goonj foundation, which seeks to clothe the poor in India by using materials discarded elsewhere. W.A. Deshapriya S. Wijetunge, director-general of the Sri Lanka-U.N. Friendship Organization presented his work providing social entrepreneur programs for prisoners.
The afternoon session focused on arts-based social entrepreneurship efforts and included a speech from Oh Jin-yi of the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture.
American David Pollack, senior advisor to Ashoka, the leading global organization supporting social entrepreneurs, underscored the important role of such “change-makers” in sparking change in society.
“A lot of the innovative concepts need to be tested by social entrepreneurs. They do it, it works. Then you begin to see a systemic change where people are more accepting of innovation and less fearful of it,” he said.
He added that such gatherings are significant in that they allow participants to learn from each other. The main difference between social entrepreneurs and their business counterparts is they are far more open to share ideas for the embitterment of society, Pollack said.
Speakers also touched on the role of governments in aiding the efforts of social enterprises. Gupta said, “When governments see that people are taking matters into their own hands, they have no alternative but to jump into it and finish up the work.’’
The forum saw a major increase in participation from its previous summit in 2008, with some 100 more guests from several additional countries attending.