Flavio Bassi, a young Brazilian who graduated in anthropology from the University of Sao Paulo, founded the association Ocarete in 2002 to work with indigenous communities in Amazonia. He has been working for Ashoka for five years and is now Ashoka’s Regional Director for Southern Africa. Ashoka is the largest and most extensive network of social entrepreneurs in the world.
This social enterprise support group started in India in 1981 and subsequently expanded to Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa, where Flavio Bassi has been based since late 2011.
Ashoka operates in 60 countries and supports 3,000 social entrepreneurs around the world. It has an international team of 400 staff and 41 offices – including Cairo for the Maghreb region, Dakar for French-speaking West Africa, Lagos for English-speaking West Africa, Nairobi for East Africa and Johannesburg for Southern Africa.
What makes Ashoka different is that it refuses any government subsidies and has an opening up policy. The network, which jealously guards its independence and focuses on the entrepreneurial spirit, is financed by private entrepreneurs who “understand the entrepreneurial spirit, who know what it means to be obsessed by an idea and want to turn it into reality”, explains Flavio Bassi.
These enterprises create what is called in Ashoka’s jargon “hybrid value chains” by becoming partners of projects implemented by social entrepreneurs, which may be enterprises, mutual or cooperatives. For example: Danone Group has partnered with Grameen Bank (launched in 1976 by Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 2006) in Bangladesh to manufacture cheap yoghurts and sell them to poor communities in order to combat malnutrition.
Yet Ashoka does not refuse to work with the public sector. It is quite the reverse. Its method even involves establishing dialogue in the same working groups between leaders of large corporations, public authorities and social stakeholders in order to develop “hybrid” cooperation and open up the three spheres.
For example, in Cape Town, Ashoka has supported an innovative project for social grants which are allocated to small businesses. The ultimate objective: to combat poverty. “In South Africa, since the end of apartheid, a whole generation of entrepreneurs has been working to integrate the country’s Black majority into the economy”, points out Flavio Bassi.
At the Convergences 2015 Forum, Ashoka’s aim was to bring the different stakeholders together – its core activity. “We speak about the role played by enterprises in combating poverty and we seek to share Ashoka’s experience in order to create new partnerships”.
The main difficulty today stems from language and definitions, points out Flavio Bassi: “It has become an obsession to speak about social enterprises, which have a private format with a social mission. This definition is becoming all things for all people and even the more classic social organizations have to copy the system of enterprises. For us, this creates confusion and poses problems in our relationships.” A case where the fact that social entrepreneurship is becoming commonplace, a good sign in itself, may also cause complications…