International Social Enterprise: What’s really happening out there?

By Sarah Austrin-Willis, Net Impact chapter at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

On November 3, the SEEP Network and the Net Impact chapter at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) co-hosted a panel discussion on the question of "International Social Enterprise: What's really happening out there?" The panel included Perveen Shaikh, founder and president of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Institute (ECDI) in Pakistan, which helps home-bound women to generate income through embroidery; and Sridhar Pabbisetti, head of the Social Enterprises practice at CHF International India, through which he works with LabourNet, a social enterprise dedicated to improving the welfare of informal-sector workers. The discussion was moderated by Drew Tulchin, Managing Partner of Social Enterprise Associates and facilitator for the SEEP Network's Value Initiative. Over two dozen people from the Washington, DC community participated, including SAIS students and members of the Net Impact professional chapter in Washington, some of them social entrepreneurs themselves.

The panelists shared the stories of how they became interested in social entrepreneurship, and the process of growing social enterprises and measuring their success, then invited questions and comments from participants. A major topic of discussion was scalability - each of their enterprises reaches several thousand people among an addressable population of millions - and the challenge of balancing the number of people reached with the depth of impact. Participants also discussed the value chain, or the way in which workers create value which is passed along to the final consumers of their products and services. Fair trade principles are essential to ensure an equitable distribution of value among all stakeholders, including the original producers, and access to technology enables them to create greater value. Social entrepreneurs can also benefit from sharing and refining their ideas, in a process of continuous learning. A final topic was the question of governance: the benefit that low-income workers and entrepreneurs can derive from organizing and sharing knowledge, and the need for the organizations that serve them to be accountable to them.

The panel discussion was part of the "Wine & Wisdom" series hosted by the SAIS Net Impact chapter. SAIS Net Impact organizes numerous events which connect students and professionals to explore a broad range of aspects of socially-responsible business. For more information, please contact

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