Social Business: For the Common Good?

Written by: Michael Roy (Lecturer in Social Business & Microfinance)
Word Frequency Query micro

Both social business and microfinance have been presented as having the potential to transform the lives of the poorest people, both in both developing and developed countries. In recent years we have seen the European Commission developing its own Social Business Initiative, and in the US, President Obama has launched an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

So, with growing global interest in these areas from governments, NGOs and Foundations, there is a real need for people with the knowledge, skills and self-awareness to lead this challenging sector, which is characterised by rapid change and increasing diversity.

Although there are many different histories, cultures and traditions of social business activity throughout the world, generally speaking social businesses use trading in the market to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. They reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.

One of (if not the) global leaders in the social business movement is Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Grameen in 2006 and, in 2013, became Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University. He explains that “Social business is a complement to traditional profit-maximising business. Social business takes into account the multi-dimensional nature of human beings and uses business principles to achieve one or more social goals.”

Microfinance, on the other hand, is a model that can be used to provide small loans for people, particularly women, in order to lift themselves out of poverty. Although very widely used in developing economies, the microfinance model has now expanded to countries such the US and UK. However, the microfinance industry has faced a growing number of challenges in recent years. While it is often assumed to be an ethically progressive industry, in recent years it has been the target of criticism, including accusations of using exploitative lending techniques and charging usurious interest rates and critics even question the ability of microfinance to alleviate poverty.

Glasgow Caledonian’s MSc Social Business and Microfinance, which was launched in 2014, is designed to equip people to debate and research these key issues: to move beyond the rhetoric and often overblown claims, to critically question and investigate the potential of social business and microfinance as a means of addressing poverty and other social problems of global significance. The degree is jointly delivered by the Glasgow School for Business and Society and the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health – one of the leading international centres for research on social business, and home to world-class researchers. This coming year there are a limited number of Chancellor Yunus Scholarships available to cover programme fees, and we aim to attract the very best scholars from around the world who have a keen interest in, or background in being involved with, social business, social enterprise, social innovation and/or microfinance initiatives to become the sector leaders and researchers of tomorrow.

Glasgow Caledonian University has also recently been awarded Ashoka U Changemaker Campus status in recognition of its global leadership role in promoting social innovation education. We recognise that there is a real need for leaders who can critically evaluate the power of business to work for the ‘common good’ and implement positive social change in fast moving global environments. In the future there will be a growing need for people who can engage with the latest research on contemporary issues facing business and society, explore international and intercultural perspectives, and determine how our global political economy impacts upon issues relating to social business and the expanding microfinance sector.

“The educational goals of students are changing,” said Ashoka U’s co-founder and executive director, Marina Kim.

“These student demands add a new dimension to the call for innovation in higher education: How can colleges and universities foster the knowledge, skills and dispositions that equip graduates to address increasingly complex global challenges? Every student should get the chance to acquire the skills necessary to make a difference in the world.”

Michael Roy (michael.roy@gcu.ac.uk) is Lecturer in Social Business and Programme Leader for the MSc Social Business and Microfinance programme at Glasgow Caledonian University. An economic sociologist and public policy specialist, Michael has published extensively in the field of social enterprise, particularly as a means of impacting upon health and well-being.

Applications are now open for September 2015 entry to the programme. Please visit our website for further programme information and to apply for one of our prestigious Chancellor Yunus Scholarships. For further information on scholarship opportunities please contact Kirsty MacInnes by email or by phone on 00 44 141 273 1771.

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