It is only through creating a healthy ecosystem for social entrepreneurship that Africa can truly unlock the potential of technological social innovation to address the Sustainable Development Goals.
Government policy, favorable to growing commercial and social enterprise, is a critical part of this ecosystem. In creating policies to build a sustainable social economy that is robust enough to achieve the SDGs, a multisector approach is critical. We need policy that stimulates social enterprise as well as sustaining it. This requires government to create and adjust policies in various sectors, ranging from health care to finance to education.
Organizations that exist at the intersection of profit and social good do a great deal to reduce some of the burden on governments to address society’s biggest social challenges, and this work must be recognized in policy. Governments also need to move away from a risk-averse, knee-jerk policy stance that is primarily based on what people cannot do. Instead, they need to develop a can-do policy orientation around removing restrictions, encouraging entrepreneurship, and easing access to growth capital.
When we ask whether or not African governments are ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the broad consensus is that most are not. This is not just an African problem — it is a global issue driven by the mind-boggling rate of technological change and evolution. Innovation leads, while regulations, policies, and laws lag behind. It is almost impossible to catch up with the rate of technological change, let alone get ahead of it to create the right, enabling legal and policy frameworks.
In the absence of these frameworks, most governments default toward focusing on what can’t be done instead of what can. They also tend to insist on “proven innovations,” which is the absolute antithesis to the meaning of innovation. To lead in innovation means that countries will need a much larger risk appetite and will be able to accept that many mistakes will happen — and this is okay.
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