Ambassador David Gilmour’s Remarks at the Forum PanAfricain de la Jeunesse

Ambassador Gilmour Remarks
Forum PanAfricain de la Jeunesse
October 16, 2018

Centre Monseigneur Pierre SESHIE

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am very happy to be with you to discuss social entrepreneurship.

This is a subject that is especially relevant for you, the youth. By 2050 Africa is expected to have nearly 1 billion people under the age of 24. This young generation will inherit a world that is beset with enormous challenges – especially for youth in Africa. Unemployment, climate change, rising economic inequality, mass migration – the scale of these problems is daunting, and they are putting an incredible burden on social systems already struggling to deliver services like healthcare, infrastructure, and education.

For the past 50 years, the task of tackling these big societal problems has been given to governments, while the private sector concerns itself with maximizing profits. Today, as challenges multiply and government resources are stretched thinner and thinner, I believe we need a new approach.

Imagine, instead, if the division between the public and private sectors was erased, and commercial strategies were applied to tackle complex problems and create social impacts. This, my friends, is the social enterprise model.

Contrary to popular belief, profitability and positive social impact are not mutually exclusive. It is, in fact, possible to build a successful company and do good.

Most nonprofits do good while losing money. They care only about impact. Many corporations make money without actually doing much good, at least for society as a whole. Each cares about one bottom line: impact or profits. In contrast, a social enterprise sets goals for its impact priorities in the same way it does for sales and marketing. It tracks both bottom lines.

Thus, the social mission is part of the business model of a social enterprise. Doing good is the core of the business, not just something that happens along the way.

I believe the social enterprise model is the model of the future, a model that has incredible potential to bring development and prosperity to Togo and the rest of the world.

There are two main reasons for this belief. First, social enterprises are more sustainable than nonprofit organizations or charities that must rely on grant money, donations, or government assistance. Because they are businesses first and foremost, they fund themselves. Mohammad Yunus, the Nobel Prize winner who created the micro-credit industry and pioneered the concept of the social business, once said, “A charity dollar has one life; a social business dollar has endless lives!”

Secondly, social enterprises can scale-up in ways other organizations cannot. The incentives of the company are designed such that greater impact directly correlates to a great profit. Just look at the example of Alaffia here in Togo. Alaffia is a Togolese-American business that sells health and beauty products made from ingredients sourced in Togo. Alaffia sells millions of dollars worth of these products in the biggest supermarkets in the U.S., and just two weeks ago, Alaffia won the ACE Award, the award for corporate excellence given once a year by the Department of State. But what is remarkable is that Alaffia has experienced so much success not by abandoning its core social mission, but by remaining true to that mission.

Founded as a social enterprise, Alaffia alleviates poverty and advances women’s equality through fair trade and indigenous resources from West Africa to produce health and beauty products for the global market.  The company also contracts with more than 14,000 women as suppliers. Moreover, Alaffia dedicates 15 percent of its fair trade sales to community projects that improve maternal and child health, promote education and better protect the environment in Togo.

For all you young social entrepreneurs out there, I really think there is a lesson to be learned in Alaffia’s story. I was in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago when Alaffia won the ACE Award. It was presented by Manisha Singh, the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. In her speech, she said: “At this point in consumer purchases, we’ve found that American consumers, worldwide consumers, want to purchase products that are sourced responsibly, that are made by companies who care about the environments in which they operate.  So responsible business is not just a smart thing to do, but it also contributes to a company’s bottom line.”

So, to conclude, I urge all of you out there to consider seriously the tremendous potential of social enterprises to upend established paradigms and create positive social change. Don’t think you have to choose between starting a business or saving the world – you can do both at the same time, by creating a social business.

Thank you for your attention. Thank you to the organizers and everyone who helped put together this event. I wish you all a very productive and fruitful conference.