When Thanh Truong, a dentist in Vietnam, wanted to help women in the Mekong Delta work their way out of poverty, she thought of quilting. With a small investment, Truong hired 35 women to begin producing the quilts, initially sold to friends. Now, 12 years later, Mekong Quilts has seven shops and employs over 340 women full time.
Mekong Quilts is one of many examples of a successful social enterprise program. Around the world, businesses and organizations are applying investment strategies to improve human and environmental well-being and make a financial return.
Several social investment forums brought social investment into the mainstream in 2013 and helped launch social investment and enterprise projects in Vietnam. At the Social Investment Forum in August in Hanoi, social investment experts discussed Vietnam’s potential and readiness for social investment, as well as ways to increase accessibility of social investment opportunities .
In 2012, there were 200 self-identified social enterprise organizations in Vietnam. But social investment totalled just $2 million, and another 165,000 organizations could become social enterprises, forum organizers said. The large gap between actual and potential social enterprises in Vietnam reflects the lack of legal structure for social enterprises, according to The Guardian. Organizations that could be considered social enterprises instead identify themselves as charities or simply as a business. The Social Investment Forum recommended creating a legal structure for social enterprises that would include tax relief for investors and policies that would incorporate and value social impact.
Other social investment forums held this year targeted Western investors, policy makers, philanthropists, and students to engage in the social investment movement. Here are four of the top annual forums to check out for next year:
- Finance for a Sustainable Future 2013, sponsored by the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investments last May in Chicago, connected investors, consultants, analysts and other financial professionals to research, education and leadership opportunities in sustainable investment. Speakers discussed new trends, approaches and policy developments in the field.
- Responsible Investment Forum 2013 was dedicated to reducing social inequalities and environmental damage.The London forum, hosted by Private Equity International in June, explored the impact that environmental, social and governance issues have on debt, and how private equity managers can navigate emerging markets while considering these issues.
- The Social Enterprise World Forum is hosted by a different country each year. The 2013 forum, earlier this month in Calgary, sought to bring representatives from all social enterprise sectors to launch the social enterprise movement into the mainstream. The topics ranged from innovation to systemic change, but the theme of the forum centered on community organization and empowerment. The forum spotlighted organizations such as the Okanagan Changemakers and Groupe Convex that exemplify this theme by promoting community involvement and meaningful employment.
- The theme for the Social Enterprise Summit 2013 in May in Minneapolis was “Building an Economy on Purpose,” reflecting the host’s belief that social enterprise is the most hopeful way to create successful global economies that serve the common good. The Summit brought together organizations to share success stories and learn from each other.
Thanh Truong proved that a vision and small financial expenditure could dramatically improve the quality of life of the women with whom she works. These international forums confirm that similar commitments made by businesses and organizations around the world would be beneficial to investors and communities alike.