Debate: Social Enterprise v. Income Inequality

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The British Council is hosting an important debate on the role that social enterprises can play in tackling income inequality in developing countries and in supporting vulnerable and marginalised communities to enjoy a greater share of economic growth.   

Held on 3 June during the European Development Days, the debate is a response to the sharp rise in income inequality that has occurred over the past 20 years in developed and developing countries alike – even as the number of people living in absolute poverty has been significantly reduced.

In advanced economies, the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few is associated with financial instability, wage stagnation and the rise of powerful interest groups.

The effects in developing countries have been starker. According to a UNDP study, high levels of inequality in many developing economies make it more difficult to reduce poverty and are linked with higher crime rates, lower life expectancy and conflict. As a result, income inequality has been the focus of mounting concern internationally.  

2015 is a critical year for the word’s future development agenda. The Millennium Development Goals are coming to an end this year and the UN is set to approve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to succeed them.

This new, 15-year agenda aims to support a rapid shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production and mobilise economic, social, and environmental action to support new economic models that ensure a basic standard of wellbeing for all eight billion people in 2030. The adoption of the SDGs provides a powerful opportunity to address the root causes of income inequality.

Held in Brussels under the theme ‘Social Enterprise: stemming the tide on income inequality’, the debate will be part of the European Development Days, Europe’s leading forum on international development, which brings together 5,000 people in the development arena to address the challenges to achieving a more sustainable and peaceful world.

The interactive debate will examine what role social enterprise can play in international development and in addressing social and environmental issues at a time when a growing number of development agencies are incorporating social enterprise models within their ‘toolkits’.

This is because social enterprises bring new approaches to social and environmental problems that have not been adequately addressed through government or charity action.  They focus on providing affordable goods and services and employment opportunities for vulnerable and marginalised communities.

They also target specific markets in developing countries that are underserved by the private, public and NGO sectors. These include providing affordable healthcare, agricultural inputs and education to extremely poor people or those living with HIV or disabilities.

The debate will be moderated by the British Council’s social enterprise adviser, Paula Woodman, who has worked in the social enterprise sector since 1999 and co-founded the UK’s Social Enterprise Mark. The panellists will represent a range of countries and areas of expertise and will include the Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, a World Bank official based in Morocco, a member of parliament from Indonesia, a senior economic adviser in Myanmar, and a Chinese social entrepreneur who provides employment for thousands of women in one of China’s poorest regions.

Ahead of the debate, we’ve asked leaders at two of the world’s biggest social enterprises -- Mohammed A. (Rumee) Ali of BRAC and Nicolas Hazard of Groupe SOS – for their views on this important topic. Read more here and here.

Practical info

Registration to attend the European Development Days is open until 25 May.

The debate will take place on Wednesday 3 June from 16.00 - 17.30

The organisers will post a short video of the debate within a few hours of its conclusion.