Sosyal Girisimcilik

Some of you may have guessed the definition of the first word in the title but I suspect few readers will know that the second means “entrepreneurship”—although many of you will have guessed that.  As words go it is simply remarkable with the letter “I” appearing five times in a word with only 11 letters! My favourite word as a child was “antidisestablishmentarianism”, which has the same five I’s but spread over 28 letters.  It is an utterly astonishing word.

I learned it at the beginning of June of this year when I participated in an intensive class for prospective social investors in Turkey. This program was organised exceptionally well by the Sabanci University in Istanbul, and is helping to prepare the Turkish market for an anticipated and much hope for boom in social enterprise, investment, finance and girisimcilik, of course.  It was excellent and meshed exceptionally well with a parallel course organised for prospective social entrepreneurs.

We are very lucky in the UK that events have conspired to enable us to be rightly positioned as a global leader in this field and our expertise is being sought all around the world. Both my ClearlySo colleagues and I have been asked to offer such courses in many locations, and I know this is the case for others in the social finance sector. We must be grateful for the circumstances which have brought about our leadership and for the commercial opportunities this creates.

What must be avoided at all costs is arrogance and condescension— frequent elements of other domains in which Anglo-Saxon thinking predominate. One of the worst examples, in a related area, concerns international development where the stereotypical view of English-speaking interventions goes something like this: “Rich Americans in suits who stay at five star hotels in developing countries, learn nothing about our culture and history and remain just for long enough to lecture us insensitively about our problems and how their solutions will solve all the problems that us barbarians had been unable to address.” To make matters worse, this sort of thinking in the development area, often referred to as “Washington Consensus and Orthodoxy” frequently didn’t work and in many cases, as excellent writers like William Easterly make painfully clear, they often created more harm than good in economic development.

What we in the UK can try to do is be candid, honest and humble. I think is obvious that arrogance has no place in such interactions and certainly does not endear the speaker to his or her audience.  As it concerns candour, I think that we must be open to those willing to take the time to hear from us about what really happened in Britain that has apparently catapulted it into a leadership position in this area. The temptation is too great to rewrite history to make our initiatives in social finance seem better coordinated and more intelligently designed than they actually were.

Honesty is also essential. We need to be completely transparent about the many mistakes we have made along this journey and at the very least, give the listener in his country the opportunity to make new mistakes. If we do not share ours frankly, than countries such as Turkey are at great risk of repeating the very same mistakes we have made, which would be tragic.

Finally, humility is essential. In this case we need to be open to the idea that we not only have some things to teach but also much to learn from Turkey and other countries. For instance, how the fundamental religious tenets of Islam can be applied to and combined with aspects of social finance is to me one of the most exciting areas in the whole sector. And let us not think that “emerging” markets do not have much to teach us–even in areas where the West has held a leadership position. Consider for a moment the example of mobile telephony. The growth of this market in Kenya has taught us much about the possibility for using mobile telephone technology to re-design a payments infrastructure or share agricultural and weather related information etc.—it’s called “leapfrogging, as new entrants figure out innovative new ways to apply existing technology already in use.  Developing countries have much to teach us in the “North” and “West”. And in the meantime we can also learn cute new words like girisimcilik.

First Published in Third Sector in June 2014.