The Asian Social Entrepreneurs Summit 2010 took place on Mon, 29th and Tue, 30th November 2010 at the Hotel Seoul Kyoyuk Munhwa Hoekwan (서울교율문화회관) , Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea, with around 300 participants from 15 different Asian countries. This conference was organised by Work Together Foundation (함까 일하는 재단), a foundation with the vision to “build a sustainable society by resolving social polarization and developing an employment-friendly environment”, aims to “create decent jobs through the Third Sector” and to “enhance social cooperative support to improve employment welfare for the most vulnerable in society”, committed to different actions. I appreciate this foundation for all its efforts to organise such a huge conference, especially in that they could provide summaries of all presentations not only in English and Korean but also in Chinese and Japanese languages.
South Korea is one of the few countries in the world with a legal framework to promote social enterprises. The Social Enterprise Promotion Act (사회적기업육성법), implemented on 01st July 2007 (click here to download the official English translation), allows the national and local governments to offer supports, such as information, accounting service, tax cut, financial supports for facility, labour and other costs, prior purchasing at public institutions, to social enterprises, i.e. “organization which is engaged in business activities of producing and selling goods and services while pursuing a social purpose of enhancing the quality of local residents’ life by means of providing social services and creating jobs for the disadvantaged” while the beneficiaries of this system is requested to “make efforts to reinvest profits created by business activities in the maintenance and expansion of social enterprises”. Currently there are more than 300 social enterprises which have been officially recognised by the Korean government, employing around 10,000 people.
This conference began with addresses from Wol-ju, SONG (송월주, chairman of the Work Together Foundation) and from Jae-Wan BAHK (박재완), Minister of Employment and Labor, before the keynote speech by Mr. Antonio MELOTO from Gawad Kalinga, the Philippines. He began his speech by appreciating the Korean influence in his country, in terms not only of the bilateral collaboration but also of the pop culture such as music and TV drama, raising a fundamental question: Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have gotten rid of the poverty, so why not the Philippines?. He gave an example in which landowners and tenant farmers work together, bringing merits to both of them as the former is happy with the higher value for their land while the latter is happy with the higher yield. This organisation has won investments for 400 communities with which governments are afraid to get involved, leading to their developments, but also showed some challenges such as lack of the Filipino brands to sell its produces at a higher price as well as social innovation. He finished his speech by pointing out that Filipinos in the United States are not poor, encouraging their countrymen in the homeland to have the same spirit to end the poverty.
Then the Plenary Session 1 started under the title of “Innovative Asian Social Entrepreneurs Addressing Asian Poverty.” Philip HUI from the Living Knowledge Education Organization (活知識立群社), Hong Kong mentioned the “New Public Benefit”, an emerging concept in mainland China to combat poverty and inequity, defining social movements as “questioning the nature and exercise of power in society”. He presented his social enterprise to empower rural educators, as the education level gap between the rural and urban areas is one of the most serious problems causing poverty there. Then followed Anshu GUPTA from GOONJ, India who presented his business to leverage second-hand clothes to provide the poor with good dresses and napkins for women on top of other social projects such as building bridges and schools. Masa KOGURE (小暮真久) from TABLE FOR TWO International, Japan presented his business model to charge US$ 0.25 more for each meal at the cafeteria etc. so that another meal can be provided for the poor in Africa. Deshapriya Sam Wijetunge Warnakula Arachchiralalage from the Sri Lanka-United Nations Friendship Organisation (SUNFO), Sri Lanka showed his project to train prisoners so that they can start working artisans once they are released from the gaol. And David POLLACK from Ashoka, United States gave an overview on his project to sponsor social innovators.
The Plenary Session 2 was focused on the role and the challenges of culture & arts. Jin-yi OH (오진이) from the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (서울문화재단), Korea presented her projects to financially support those children wishing to be professional artists such as ballet dancer and pianist. Yasuo HARIMA (播磨靖男) from Tampopo no Ie (たんぽぽの家), Japan showed his art gallery where the handicapped can exhibit their works and have the chance to be acknowledged as professional artists. Byung-soo, KIM (김병수) from E-eum (이음), Korea showed his different activities to stimulate the traditional city centre at Jeonju as well as its surrounding rural communities by leveraging local resources and different cultural activities (both traditional and modern ones). And Kenny Low from O-school, Singapore presented his business which promotes young dancers and creates jobs for them, challenging the traditional Singaporean values which despise commercial arts and performances.
Then three group discussions took place in parallel. I was at the first session “Social Enterprise based on solidarity economy” where five speakers gave their presentations. It began with Benjamin QUIÑONES from CSRSME Asia, the Philippines who talked about NEGOSENTRO, his own supply chain network composed of different social enterprises and mentioning three Ps (Profit, Planet and People) as their priorities. Then followed Bambang ISMAWAN from Bina Swadaya, Indonesia, telling about his organisation which works for community-based development, self-help institution promotion and development as well as microcredit projects based on income generation, open-mindedness and democracy, empowering local people. Reiko INOUE (井上礼子) from PARCIC (パルシック), Japan showed her experience of fair trade coffee from East Timor, telling us the hardship and importance to teach basic skills such as accounting to the Timorese partners. Young-Geun KWON (권영근) from the Korean Society for Research on Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Environment (한국농어촌사회연구소) shared with us his experience to create a self-sufficient-style community at Heongsung, Gangwon Province by circulating resources and empowering villages, showing the case of Korean beef production. And finally, Denison JAYASOORIA from Binary University College, Malaysia told the perspective for solidarity economy in his country, especially in the realms of elderly care, tuition centre and early learning, on top of promoting the 3rd Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy that he will organise from the 01st to 04th November 2011.
At the same time, four speakers showed their projects at “Social Enterprise as Social Innovator” (Joel SADLER from Re:Motion Designs, India which provides artificial prosthetic knee joints for amputees at a low price, Deepak GADHIA from Gadhia Solar, India who works for solar energy systems, Byeong-Eun AHN (안병은) from WooriDongne (우리동네), Korea who runs a café and other businesses for the mentally handicapped at Suwon and Durreen SHAHNAZ from Asiaiix, Singapore which runs an investment agency to finance social enterprises) and other four were at the “Review of Asian Cases and the main Issues of Social Service Providing Social Enterprises” (Junghee, PARK (박정희) from Dasomi Foundation (다솜이재단), Korea who creates jobs for single mothers and provides free care services to low-income patients, Ting Yu (Catherine) CHOU from Eden Social Welfare Foundation (伊甸社會福利基金會), Taiwan presented a gas station run mainly by handicapped staff, Harue ISHIKAWA (石川治江) from Care Centre Yawaragi (ケア･センターやわらぎ), Japan about her 24-hours-a-day care service for the elderly and the handicapped and Wing Sai Jessica Tam from Hong Kong Council of Social Service (香港社會服務聯會), Hong Kong about her social impact assessment tool).
The day 2 started with 6 simultaneous group discussions: 1) Culture & Art, 2) Green Technology, 3) Rural Economy, 4) Social Venture Incubating, 5) Fair Trade and 6) Responsible Tourism. Then the Plenary Session 3) dealt with the social finance in which four speakers gave their presentations. Randall KEMPNER from Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, United States underscored the importance to invest for small and growing businesses (SGB). Richard ROQUE from SA Capital, Hong Kong presented key ideas that social entrepreneurs should know to get funds from investors. Sweta POKHAREL from E+Co, Thailand shared the overview on the investment for social ventures in clean technology for which she has been working. Finally Chull-Young LEE (이철영) from the Social Enterprise Network (서시얼엔터프라이즈네트워크), Korea explained the role of the financial sector for further development of the social enterprises in his country.
This conference has shown the continuous growth of social enterprises in Asia, especially in the host country South Korea where the Social Enterprise Promotion Act has been nurturing hundreds of such entities, creating jobs for thousands of disadvantaged people there. Also the diversity of social enterprises was obvious at this conference, such as farming, fair trade, medical care, renewable energy, cultural activities and sustainable tourism, ensuring that this economy will penetrate into different sectors of these Asian countries.
It is also true, however, that this conference has made clear the challenges that Asians should take into account on really promoting such economic activities. Very few (if any) were questioning the status quo of the capitalism as the principal cause of the poverty with which hundreds of millions of Asians are still afflicted. Though it is true that many Asian countries are still in the honeymoon with the bustling capitalism as their economy is still growing, more severe criticisms should be given to the very structure of capitalism which unavoidably triggers social and environmental externalities. Also, the importance of self-managed economic entities such as workers’ cooperatives and non-profits was overlooked during this two-day summit. And last but not least, there was a lack of a holistic horizon which can encompass not only social enterprises but also microcredit, fair trade, non-profits, foundations and other players. The solidarity economy movement, already quite strong in other continents but not yet in Asia, could play a relevant role in putting together all those above-mentioned efforts and to bring them into a higher level.