04/18/2012 09:39 am ET | Updated Jun 18, 2012

The Next Wave of Successful Social Entrepreneurs

The 2012 Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) cohort was announced on Wednesday, April 18. These 20 social entrepreneurs comprise the 10th annual class of our unique capacity-development program. The Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University provides each entrepreneur fully subsidized Silicon Valley mentoring, MBA-caliber classes, and a rare opportunity to network and collaborate on our campus in the heart of Silicon Valley, culminating in the Business Plan Presentations on Aug. 23.

This year's class is impressive, and represents a microcosm of some of the biggest trends in social entrepreneurship today.

10 entrepreneurs working in Africa

At the Skoll World Forum last month, Hans Rosling articulately described how the planet's population is moving inexorably to 10 billion. Much of that growth will be in Africa, and without some disruptive changes, our world will have many more poor people.

Social entrepreneurship in Africa was named one of the top 30 social entrepreneurship blogs for 2012, reflecting the acceleration of African entrepreneurial activity. Adoption of mobile money in Kenya, for example, has leapfrogged innovations in the U.S. and Europe according to the 2011 IFC Mobile Money Study. It's fitting during our tenth GSBI class, then, that 10 of the social entrepreneurs are working in Africa to alleviate energy poverty, improve health and education, and afford Africa's half billion smallholder farmers sustainable livelihoods and food security 2012 -- some leveraging the power of the mobile platform for frugal innovation.

10 women entrepreneurs

And estimates indicate that 70 to 85 percent of the farmers in Africa are women, feeding the continent's billion people. If anything, then, it's an understatement that women hold up Half the Sky. It's a particular delight that 10 women comprise half of this year's GSBI cohort -- the first time we've achieved gender parity. Themes from the provocative HBR Blog Are Women Better Leaders than Men? might be aptly applied to social entrepreneurship: Building relationships, developing others, and exhibiting integrity are perhaps more vital to success given the complex ecosystems in which social entrepreneurs operate.

10 entrepreneurs devoted to sustainable energy

The United Nations declared 2012 the Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and for our third consecutive year, the GSBI has an off-grid, clean energy sector strategy. Depending on how you count them, either 10 or nine of this year's enterprises are focused on alleviating energy poverty by producing, distributing, or financing sustainable energy solutions for electricity and cooking. The 1.3 billion people without access to electricity cannot safely pursue income generating activities or educational opportunities, such as learning to read, after dark.

Education and well-educated social entrepreneurs

"Education is the best anti-poverty policy we have," said Gordon Brown during the morning plenary at the Skoll World Forum. And yet both rural and urban girls are more likely to be out of primary and secondary education than boys, according to the United Nations. Helping girls stay in school through simple measures like safe, sustainably made sanitary pads is the objective of two social enterprises in this year's cohort. Also encompassing safe drinking water, sanitation, nutrition, and vision care in addition to women's health, fully six of this year's entrepreneurs are focused on health in some way, the GSBI's first significant health sector focus.

The 20 amazing social entrepreneurs in the 2012 GSBI class were selected from over 180 who successfully completed three Carnegie-Mellon style application exercises: value proposition, target market segmentation, and sources and uses of funds. Another trend we noticed is an increase in applicants already fluent in business -- for example, with MBAs. Historically, GSBI alums with extensive business experience such as Katherine Lucey of Solar Sister (2011), Manoj Sinha of Husk Power Systems (2009), and Amit Jain of eHealthPoint (2008) have told us they benefited from the GSBI, a testament to our practical focus on business models and local context. Does this trend portend an even broader embrace of social entrepreneurship at business schools and by the current generation of entrepreneurs? That would be swell.

One thing is certain: It is heartening and inspiring to witness the passion, dedication, and vision exhibited by these social entrepreneurs who work in countries including Uganda, Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, South Africa, Darfur, and Mali. It's a truly global wave of changemakers.

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