Unleashing the power of social entrepreneurship through Sun Exchange

Published: 04 Aug 2023

Sun Exchange has over 40,000 sustainability-minded members from across 180+ countries who perhaps, without knowing it, are now social entrepreneurs.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of social entrepreneurship, exploring why it is important and its characteristics. We’ll wrap up with a look at what we believe to be one of the most direct ways to be a social entrepreneur – using Sun Exchange to provide power to solar projects at high-impact organisations in South Africa.

Profit or people… or both?

Profit and social impact can go hand in hand, but not always for the better. Many businesses and business models are infamous for putting profits before people, and knowingly causing irreversible social and environmental harm.

This is despite alternatives being available that would avoid the most severe impacts, but at a cost to a company’s bottomline. In the worst cases, companies intentionally maintain opaque and muddied supply chains to hide practises such as child labour.

Even in the solar industry, a sector dedicated to a sustainable transition to a better world, some manufacturers flout international human rights laws and regulations. The onus can therefore be placed on buyers to become aware of and avoid manufacturers known to be inflicting such social harms.

This is the very reason Sun Exchange has a comprehensive procurement policy in place which prohibits our employees and suppliers from sourcing products from manufacturers known to be breaching labour standards. Policies such as these force manufacturers to comply or risk stock impounding or outright industry ostracisation.

Sadly, there are still no international laws that prohibit businesses from causing irreversible damage to the natural environment, or simply ‘committing ecocide’. Ecocide is defined as the “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.

This is despite the best efforts of advocates for such laws to be instituted. The late Polly Higgins, a British environmental lawyer, dedicated the latter years of her life to making the knowing destruction of the environment an international crime. Doing so would allow the boards of businesses in, for example, the mining sector, to lean on legal obligations over and above maximising profits to minimise environmental harm. Polly’s trademark catchphrase ‘Dare To Be Great!’ has become Sun Exchange’s in-house battle cry.

Watch: Polly Higgins Ted Talk ‘Dare To Be Great’, a challenge for individuals to do what they know is right within the context of business. Sun Exchange adopted this slogan as our in-house mantra.

Beyond purely profit motivated business

Acknowledging that corporations and businesses are the most powerful forces in the modern world, can we utilise profit making as a means to deliberately enable social and environmental good? Doing so has got a label, ‘social entrepreneurship’.

The act of altruism through business is nothing new. The Quaker Oats company as early as the 19th century, was founded on principles of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy.

Today, the rise of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) principles is a universal guiding path for businesses and nonprofit organisations to follow a more ethically-minded way of work, and of measuring impacts.

The power of the individual

ESG principles are a good step for big businesses to coordinate and benchmark efforts, but what about the responsibilities or powers of the individual? How can a single human make an impact in making the world fairer, cleaner and safer?

As we pass climatic tipping points, social entrepreneurship has emerged as a beacon of hope for people wanting to create positive change and equitable economic development, using their own personal wallets, and businesses, as the driver.

We no longer need to feel powerless about addressing the huge issues that mean something to us. In a consumerist society, how we spend and make our money is a vote for what we like, what we want to see more of, and what we are willing to tolerate.

If you have ever bought a product on the basis of it being more ethical than alternatives, that in the most practical and direct way is a social entrepreneurial act!

Above: Brands like Patagonia have flourished as a result of ensuring they behave ethically as possible, perfectly communicated by their infamous Black Friday full page ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ ad. They have built a dedicated and passionate consumer and supporter base as a result.

The popularity of brands that value and have set out to resolve social and environmental issues, indirectly puts the spotlight on businesses that do not follow similar ethical standards, causing such companies to be boycotted, ultimately leading those businesses to clean up their act.

The choices you make

When choosing a product or service, here are some of the most common membership and accreditation schemes to look out for, indicating that a business is dedicated to avoiding social and environmental harm:

  • B Corp Certification* - covers all aspects of sustainability, including the social, economic and environmental spheres.
  • Cradle to Cradle Certification - sets a global standard for safe, circular and responsibly made products.
  • Carbon Trust Standard - examines and recognises companies working to reduce their environmental footprint.
  • Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard - an international organisation that works with farmers, foresters and other businesses to promote sustainable practices throughout supply chains.
  • Fair Trade Certification - having the Fairtrade Mark on a product means that the farmers and workers that grew your product are getting a fair deal on their goods. These farms are social enterprises that prioritise workers' rights and follow set environmental standards.
  • Leaping Bunny Certified Cruelty Free - The industry-standard for animal-friendly and cruelty-free products, particularly for beauty products.

*Sun Exchange is registered as a B Corp, with the purpose of enabling access to the benefits of sustainable, renewable energy to all.

The essence of social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship at its core is driven by a powerful vision: to make the world a better place.

Most entrepreneurs in this space, much like traditional entrepreneurial counterparts, identify opportunities to solve problems. However, in the world of social entrepreneurship, the difference lies in our unwavering commitment to creating social benefits rather than solely focusing on financial gains.

You can go as far as to call this group ‘pioneers’. A pioneer who challenges the status quo, being mindful of the bigger picture, and who makes social innovation happen. A social enterprise can tackle any of the big issues such as poverty, climate change, education, and healthcare. And as these issues are often interwoven, positive results in one are amplified and felt elsewhere.

Social entrepreneurship is a very broad area, but the common characteristics of social enterprises can be defined as:

  • Passion with purpose: People leading this kind of business are fuelled by passion, dedicating themselves to causes that resonate deeply with them. This passion becomes their driving force as they overcome obstacles and navigate uncharted waters
  • Innovation and creativity: Thinking outside the box is the hallmark of social entrepreneurship. These entrepreneurs are trailblazers that continuously seek novel solutions to address systemic problems.
  • Sustainability: Social entrepreneurs strive to create sustainable change and economic development, ensuring that their initiatives have a lasting impact on communities and the environment, and not just short-term token results.
  • Collaboration: Building strong networks and business partnerships is crucial for social entrepreneurs to scale their impact. Collaboration fosters a sense of community, strengthening their collective ability to create change.
  • Measure of success: While traditional entrepreneurs might measure success through financial metrics, social entrepreneurs use a double or even triple bottom line approach. They assess both their financial viability and the positive social and/or environmental outcomes of their social ventures.

The impact of social entrepreneurship

A social enterprise has the power to ignite change across sectors and societies, the ripple effects of social enterprises can be far-reaching and transformative. They:

  • Address gaps in social services: Social entrepreneurs identify gaps in traditional social services and create innovative solutions to meet the needs of underserved communities.
  • Promote environmental responsibility: Many social entrepreneurs focus on tackling issues often spurned by their government, like the fight against climate change, pollution, and resource depletion.
  • Empower marginalised communities: Through education, skill development, and job creation, social entrepreneurs empower marginalised individuals, offering them opportunities for a better future.
  • Drive economic growth: By launching and backing impactful ventures, social entrepreneurs contribute to economic growth, fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Inspire and catalyse change: The success stories of social entrepreneurs inspire others to join the movement, creating a cascading effect of positive change around the world.

Sun Exchange: Lighting the path to social entrepreneurship

Let's explore how using the Sun Exchange platform allows you to step into a world of high impact social entrepreneurship with ease.

Our pioneering platform connects sustainability-minded individuals and businesses seeking to invest in solar projects, with high-impact organisations in Southern Africa that are willing to pay for solar energy use.

Doing so achieves the following:

Democratising solar energy

With Sun Exchange, you can be a solar power producer without owning a roof!

By purchasing solar cells in one of our crowdsales, you become an integral part of renewable energy production in South Africa. Your purchase enables the provision of reliable and affordable clean solar energy to schools, retirement homes, and other high-impact institutions.

This democratisation of solar access enables you to make a tangible difference in the lives of those who need it most.

Empowering social-impact organisations

Through Sun Exchange, you directly empower social impact organisations such as schools and retirement homes in South Africa by providing them access to affordable and reliable renewable energy.

Many of these organisations have limited access to capital to go solar, which hampers their growth and development.

Your investment in solar projects through Sun Exchange helps break down barriers, enabling these organisations to focus their resources on the provision of access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.

Sustainable and profitable investment

Social entrepreneurship doesn't mean sacrificing financial returns. With Sun Exchange, you earn rental income from the electricity your solar cells generate, creating wealth while making a positive impact.

It's a win-win scenario that can align your financial goals with your passion for social change.

Transparency and accountability

Sun Exchange ensures transparency and accountability in the entire process of setting up and managing solar projects.

You can track the performance of your solar cells through a monitoring dashboard, seeing firsthand the impact of your solar energy production.

Be a social entrepreneur with Sun Exchange

And so we conclude our peek into the inspiring world of social entrepreneurship.

Hopefully you realise that you don't need to be a renowned innovator or a seasoned business leader to become a social entrepreneur. All it takes is the desire to create change, the courage to embrace innovation, and the determination to make a difference.

Sun Exchange offers you a direct and effortless way to become a social entrepreneur. By investing in solar power and empowering high-impact organisations in South Africa, you can become part of a global movement, driving positive change and making a lasting impact on the lives of others.

If you’ve not done so already, sign-up to Sun Exchange today and start supplying solar energy to a project that resonates with your own social interests.

Step into the world of social entrepreneurship with Sun Exchange, and together, we can create a brighter and more sustainable future for all!