Making the Case for Humane & Social Entrepreneurship

Beyond the staggering tragedy that is the death and illness of thousands of people the world over, the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought unprecedented economic disorder, decimating economies, and the livelihoods of citizens in rich and poor nations alike. The International Trade Centre projected that, globally, one in every five micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will go bankrupt in 2020—an alarming number considering that, in Africa, this category of business provides nearly 80 percent of sorely needed youth employment. The pandemic is estimated to push about 40 million people in the region into extreme poverty in 2020. That kind of abrupt uptick in suffering has not been seen in Africa since the 1980s.

Edem Adzogenu, Chairman of the Executive Committee, AfroChampions Initiative

Reflecting on the Humane Entrepreneurship discourse, evidently social enterprises seem to be “Substituting for the State” in all ramifications. Making the State relevant is an imperative and Covid-19 pandemic has made this even more urgent.

Poor countries are not reporting cases because testing is not affordable in many of these countries. Even when and where test kits have been donated, the distribution and use of these for the noble purposes have been usurped. The world not long ago witnessed the unrest in Nigeria and raiding of warehouses where palliative were being hoarded for political gains.

Deborah Brautigam’s seminal work “Substituting for the state: Institutions and industrial development in Eastern Nigeria,” examined the dynamic industrialization experience in Nnewi, part of eastern Nigeria’s “industrial axis.” The article suggests that insights from institutional economics can be used to help explain the case of dynamic industrialization in an unpromising economic environment.

Nnewi industrialists have successfully filled the gaps left by failures of both the market and the state. In particular, by using both international linkages and alternative, culturally based networks, they have reduced information uncertainties and principal-agent problems, lowering the transaction costs faced by other would-be industrialists in Nigeria.  

However, Nigeria is not an isolated case, and should, therefore, not be treated as such as the uprisings provided a good opportunity for the furtherance of social entrepreneurship and arguably humane entrepreneurship activities worldwide. This is something to resonates with Ayman El Tarabishy’s “Healing A Hurt Generation with Humane Entrepreneurship,” in a previous ICSB Gazette article in August 2020.

Humane and Social Entrepreneurship – Never the twain shall meet?

In this article, the principle of Humane Entrepreneurship that the has long championed is mapped against the utility of social enterprises to be involved not just in coordinating acquisition of palliatives, but also the disbursement of the same to ensure that it reaches those most in need. Palliatives – broadly defined, include not just food rations but testing kits, face masks and sanitisers – most of which have been regrettably stashed away for corrupt purposes or other hidden political agendas in many parts of Africa.

The Ebola story is not yet over and yet we are touting post-Covid19 narratives. We need to wake up and adjust to life with the pandemic. It is out of control and the end is clearly not in sight. Therefore, empathy, empowerment, enablement, and equity are worthy companions in our long-drawn-out war against the invisible enemy.

In my earlier article at the onset of the Covid-19 promoted global lockdowns in March 2020, “COVID-19, Wash Your Hands? No Vaccine, No Cure, No Plan A ,” I pointed out that:

I’m neither a virologist or pathologist, but we have seen them all: Ebola, Zika, SARS, MERS and now COVID-19 in different guises but wreaking the same havoc along their trail. What lessons have we learnt over the years?

In my 2016 article The business of saving lives in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – a social imperative? Insights from “The Global Soap Project” I relied on a single case study of a social enterprise founded by an African Immigrant resident in the US, to posit how lives could be saved in Africa in light of the Ebola pandemic that ravaged swathes of West African communities. In that article I pointed out that:

“The Global Soap Project has much to offer in terms of “saving lives” in these communities, as the battle against the Ebola virus calls for containment measures.” 

I went on to argue that our understanding of the role of social entrepreneurship in complementing community efforts in coping with pandemics such as the Ebola virus was expedient. It also raises two interesting questions – where do these viruses come from? How can we root them out at source? We all know they are somewhere in the food chain, but perhaps the instinct of business constrains taking action.

Prevention, containment, and cure.Think aboutthese ABC plans – i.e., prevention, containment, and cure, respectively.In my humble opinion, I dare reiterate that pandemics are not new, what is new is our continuous lack of preparedness which made me question when the world would rouse from slumber of complacency.

  • Plan A – Prevention: This obvious Plan A, raises the question – where do these viruses come from? How can we root them out at source? We all know they are somewhere in the food chain, but perhaps the instinct of business constrains taking action.
  • Plan B – Containment: While vaccines are being fast-tracked, the spread of the virus can be curtailed through personal hygiene, and the study case demonstrates how social enterprises can be leveraged at the community, national, regional, and global levels.
  • Plan C – Cure: Isn’t a shame that a cure for epidemics (e.g., Ebola by definition of its geographic spread) can still not be found while the world riles in a myriad of innovations – e.g., space exploration, supercomputers, AI, robotics, and more scientific breakthroughs than we can document, but a virus very similar to what we have been exposed to in the past, is not only locking down our homes, schools, communities, but alsocountries, and the world at large.

A month later in April 2020, I penned down another piece on the question of “Self-isolation, COVID-19 and the unresolved housing issue in Northern Nigeria.” In that article I pointed out

“It is not my intention in this article to continue on the path of misery that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon humanity in recent months.  However, while the world has put a raft of measures in place, and especially as containment through social distancing and handwashing in a bid to flattening the curve is concerned, it is on the subject of self-isolation that I speak to in this piece.”

On this matter of self-isolation, I questioned the practicality of compliance, drawing illustrations fromdeveloping world contexts such as the impoverished communities of Northern Nigeria where and when people struggle to have a roof over their heads.

“How do the populace self-isolate in situations where residential property, owned or rented, is not affordable?”

In a recent report,Foresight Africa 2021, the Brookings Institute sought“to capture the top priorities for the region in the coming year, offering recommendations for African and global stakeholders for creating and supporting a strong, sustainable, and successful Africa.”According to the report:

“…we hope that Foresight Africa 2021 will promote a dialogue on the key issues influencing development policy and practice in Africa during the upcoming year. Such ideas will ultimately provide sound strategies for sustaining and expanding the benefits of economic growth to all people of Africa in the years ahead.”[1]

Rethinking, retooling, and rediscovering.The Brookings Report touches on the importance of the private sector for economic development and job creation – using an interesting 3R strategy – i.e., rethinking, retooling, and rediscovering.

Without investment in Africa’s people, businesses, and resources, that much-needed economic growth will not surface. As the world looks to reopen, major players in African economies are rethinking their roles, retooling their business models, and rediscovering how their unique strengths can benefit the region more broadly […] our authors explore the top challenges facing African entrepreneurs and businesses as they look to restart and grow, as well as posit ideas for encouraging both the growth of the private sector and its involvement in the post-pandemic recovery.[2]

The above quote captures the imperative with a call for ramping up private sector involvement in dealing with the unwelcome guest – the pandemic as we strive to rediscover our mojo.

Closing Thoughts

This article takes a slightly different perspective that hinges upon the humane entrepreneurship 4Es – empathy, equity, enablement, and empowerment especially of the youth with a view to serving the full purpose of universities and their service to the community.

My article “The Campus Radio, Edutainment, and Youth Development” in a previous issue of the ICSB Gazette, I highlighted how the campus radio may present such a platform, despite the fears over their autonomy considering that funding may come with strings attached.

However, let us not forget that a similar model applies to students unions who remain autonomous irrespective of funding source. In these times of misinformation and the need to echo the student voice in universities the campus radio not just ticks the box in terms of “source credibility,” but also serves myriad other purposes social and economic. It also affords internship opportunities, and alumni relations that many universities have struggled to keep a tab on. Entrepreneurial universities should stand up and be counted if not for anything else, “enablement” in terms of training and “empowerment” in terms of the student voice may be worth rethinking. It should go beyond commercialisation of research and move towards the triple helix of academia, private (including social enterprises) and the public sector (i.e., the State and its numerous agencies).

Hopefully, the connection between “humane” and “social” entrepreneurship has been made – rather than ascribing it as a situation of “Never The Twain Shall Meet.” It is now over to researchers (both academic and policy) to further the debate beyond the usual suspects.

About the Author

Nnamdi O. Madichie is Professor of Marketing & Entrepreneurship at the UNIZIK Business School, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria. He is also Research Fellow at the Bloomsbury Institute London as well as Visiting Professor at the Coal City University, Enugu, Nigeria. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (FCIM), Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy of England & Wales (SFHEA). His research straddles broad areas of Marketing & Entrepreneurship cutting across geographic contexts, notably Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Professor Madichie is also past editor of the African Journal of Business and Economic Research (AJBER) published by Adonis & Abbey.

He can be contacted at:

[1]Brookings Institute (2021) Foresight Africa 2021,

[2]Ibid. Chapter 4,


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