On Social Entrepreneurship and the Pacific Alliance: An Invitation

The Pacific Alliance Blog chatted with Ulf Thoene and Roberto Garcia Alonso about their original and interesting article on Social Entrepreneurship in the Pacific Alliance and the factors that could facilitate this type of entrepreneurship.*

Ulf is a lecturer and researcher at Universidad de La Sabana in Bogota, Colombia. He holds a PhD and a Master of Laws (LLM) from the University of Warwick; a Graduate Diploma in Economics from the University of Nottingham; and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in History from the University of Sheffield. His research interests are business ethics; informal employment; and regional integration. He has previous experience in socio-legal research and competition policy in regional contexts.

Roberto is a lecturer and researcher at Universidad de La Sabana in Bogota, Colombia. He holds a PhD in Political Science and Public Administration and a MA in Democracy and Government from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid; a BA in Law and a BA in Political Science and Public Administration from the same university. His research interests are international relations.

How did you become interested in the topic of Social Entrepreneurship, particularly in the Pacific Alliance?

Social Entrepreneurship has become an effective alternative to address social issues worldwide through innovation as a means of creating sustainable social value. It enables empowering people to take ownership of their development; hence, requiring enhanced capacity-building efforts. As a result, Regional integration has become an effective development strategy as it fosters joint capacity building actions between countries to reduce inequality gaps. Specifically, the Pacific Alliance, recognising the region’s relative backwardness and potential in Social Entrepreneurship, devotes significant spaces and actions to entrepreneurship and innovation.

What opportunities do you see for Social Entrepreneurship in the regional context of the Pacific Alliance? Is it feasible to see regional Social Entrepreneurship growing in the medium-term?

Although the region exhibits dissimilar development paths, the PA’s interdependent regionalism offers flexibility and legitimacy in its decision-making, evaluation, discussion, and approval processes. The PA promotes cooperation, economic growth, consensus, and participation as a means to overcome inequality.

This backdrop offers meaningful possibilities for Social Entrepreneurship (SE) as a bottom-up strategy embedded within the PA’s framework. SE combines diverse actors, including local organisations, NGOs, governmental institutions, and the private sector, while promoting cooperation systems. This environment creates a unique opportunity for social innovation based on actor’s common objectives and experiences. This is especially true for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which contribute to job creation and economic growth.

SE can be extrapolated to all the region and adjusted to each country’s specific characteristics thanks to its local foundations and PA’s common cooperation goals. Under the current pandemic context, we will likely see a growing digital-based, and innovative SE as entrepreneurs find new ways to create businesses seeking to safely reach consumers while generating social change, sustainability, and growth through inclusiveness, environmental protection, and income generation.

To what extent are Social Entrepreneurship and sustainable development connected?

Sustainable development is a strategic aspect of SE that requires transforming productive structures and human capital to achieve it. This relationship further highlights the importance of enhanced education and capacity building efforts for the population, especially youth and entrepreneurs. Economic growth is no longer independent of socioeconomic needs and issues. The path to sustainability considers not only supply, demand and market aspects, but also environmental factors and inequality gaps. Through SE, the PA can address both sides of the population’s needs in the region.

From your empirical work, what did you conclude about the factors that facilitate the Social Entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Pacific Alliance?

Our findings indicate that the PA’s multidimensional agenda is committed and has taken solid actions that facilitate Social Entrepreneurship in the region. However, some factors receive more attention than others. Training, research, and advisory are high on the PA’s priorities; however, governmental support is the lowest. It is noteworthy to mention that government support is key to SE’s success and effectiveness.

In terms of innovation and creativity, we found that dissemination and visibility are key to SE growth. Also, SMEs, education, and cooperation are determining factors of any social entrepreneurship. The PA drives these through events such as the Entrepreneurship and Innovation LAB4+ Forum and the Innovation Awards, which provide SE discourse and spaces.

What are the shortages that the current works and agenda in the PA have in making the PA a platform for Social Entrepreneurship in the regional context?

 The PA has a favourable ecosystem to promote SE; however, the ecosystems’ elements (1. Training, research, advisory; 2. Financial and human resources, 3. Innovation and creativity; 4. Disseminations and visibility; 5. Government support) are interdependent. This interdependence means they must all be worked on simultaneously, and this is not the case. Also, existing mechanisms to promote innovation are not explicitly aimed at SE, which weakens its implementation in the region.

For the PA to be an effective SE platform in Latin America, it must consider the region’s weak industrial sector, as well as push for research and technological advances and new economic models that are not only based on economic growth. Innovation goes hand in hand with the foregoing and is key to SE. It also has to give a greater spotlight to government support on its agenda.

On the other hand, public administrations lacking in innovation, the region’s high poverty rates, together with poor education systems and low competitivity of SMEs are the PA’s main challenges to achieving their development goals. Moreover, social entrepreneurs lack legal mechanisms to protect and facilitate their work. Finally, the PA should strengthen and continue implementing its entrepreneurship efforts, creating SE spaces for all interested parties.

If you are interested to know more about Ulf’s and Roberto’s work about the Pacific Alliance and its international standing, please visit our online library featuring several of their academic pieces about this topic.

*This is the reference to their article on social entrepreneurship in the Pacific Alliance: García Alonso, Roberto and Thoene, Ulf and Figueroa, Ana María and Murillo Amaris, Edwin (2020) El Emprendimiento Social en el marco de la Alianza del Pacífico. REVESCO. Revista de Estudios Cooperativos (133), https://eprints.ucm.es/id/eprint/62882/.

You may also reach out to Ulf on Twitter @ulfthoene or email ulf.thoene@unisabana.edu.co. Roberto can be contacted on Twitter at @RGarciaAlonso or via email roberto.garcia@unisabana.edu.co.

Dr Thoene’s and Dr Garcia’s views in this Blog are personal and do not reflect the policies and opinions of the institutions they are affiliated with.