The Financial Crisis reminded us all about how important it is to have jobs. As someone who was in their senior year of college when the bottom fell off, the dwindling job market was all too clear and was a contributing factor to my decisions to go straight into graduate school. Though many of us experienced the pain of the crisis in various ways, the United States is still by many standards the premier job market in the world. Not so much the case in Uganda.
While officially statistics about Uganda show a low unemployment rate (under 5%), it does not take long to see right through that number. Many people in Uganda don’t have one job, they have 3 or 4 none of them are good jobs. In Uganda, people employ a number of trades. Everyone is a farmer during the wet season but unless they are well off (most obviously aren’t) and can irrigate they can’t be farmers during the dry season. Due to this they engage in a number of jobs but are not fully employed by any of them nor do they earn enough by any single job. People here may be employed but they are grossly underemployed which goes a long way to explain why it takes forever to get anything done and when you go around town most people seem to be just hanging out. There is plenty time to work when there isn’t much work to be done.
The fundamental purpose of business is to employ people so they can use their God given abilities for a common goal. Any business in Africa has an element of social impact because it provides what is so rare out here, a good job. It then behooves me to find that businesses operating under the banner of “social business” to measure their impact to the community through everything they do except the job they provide. They promote the education, training, health, and many other initiatives they are involved in but the greatest impact they provide the people, the job itself, is disregarded.
Some of this is understandable because social businesses need to distinguish themselves from normal business and promoting job creation does not do that. But there comes a point where if the importance of the job itself loses its meaning to the social business, then the social business will simply be putting on the appearance of social impact rather than achieving it.
I have been long aware that in social business circles, the social aspect has much more emphasis than the business aspect. Thus we get many seemingly incredible businesses that remain small and ultimately insignificant because they couldn’t get the business side right. Or at least didn’t have enough business savvy to break out of the niche market that social businesses occupy.
The dichotomy between “doing good” and making money is all too prevalent in the mindsets of people out here but it shouldn’t be. I have been in touch for some time with an investment group out of Houston whose goal is to start businesses in Ethiopia with revenues reaching $100 million by 2020 thus raising GDP per capita of the country by $1. These are purely for profit ventures but there is no doubt that is they are able to reach their goal, immense “social impact” will follow. Thousands of jobs will be created meaning thousands will be able to send their kids to school and thousands will have better health care and because of good ole fashioned business. No one will parade this group for carrying the social impact banner but maybe we should.