Ubuntu: A Social Entrepreneurship imperative for Africa

Social entrepreneurship has emerged to be a growing organisational form in which market- based methods are used to address social issues, but remains poorly understood (Tucci, 2013). Social value creation and economic value creation, two distinct and seemingly competing organisational objectives can be identified within the social entrepreneurship model (Miller, Grimes, & Vogus, 2012). Scholars in the early years of the conceptualisation of social entrepreneurship regard compassion as a salient motivator in those inclined to venture into social enterprising (Moon, 2015).

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Political Scientist from Harvard University, John Rawls argued that a society is well-ordered when it is effectively regulated by a public conception of justice in which “everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice, and the basic social institutions generally satisfy and are generally known to satisfy these principles” (“Ubuntu and Justice as Fairness,” 2014). Rawls continues to argue that among individuals with disparate aims and purposes, a shared conception of justice establishes the bonds of civic friendship. He speaks of the notion of justice as fairness, and theorises Ubuntu as a notion of an indigenous African communal justice and fairness — associated with humaneness (“Ubuntu and Justice as Fairness,” 2014). This ethic of humaneness would require a commitment to the idea that it is good, that human nature has worth, and essentially that the human essence is worthy of pursuit. It implies that we ought to seek out that essence, to cultivate it, to realise it.

A structural modelling analysis of 179 nascent social entrepreneurs was conducted by scholars in South Korea, which indicated not only a direct positive linkage between compassion and prosocial motivation — but this analysis also indicated the indirect effects of prosocial motivation on social enterprise creation behaviour through perceived meaningfulness and perceived entrepreneurial ability. Moon (2015), posits that compassion is seen to be responsible for three cognitive processes; perceived meaningfulness, appreciation for non-monetary compensation and perceived entrepreneurial ability — leading to social enterprise creation endeavours. Thus, compassion, can be characterised for its other-orientation and emotional connection linking an individual to a suffering community (Miller et al., 2012).

The purpose of this research is to explore how compassion can serve as a powerful motivator for action, compelling individuals to alleviate others’ suffering. Compassion serves as a prosocial motivating emotion, which is also aligned to the values enshrined in the Ubuntu philosophy — a core value inherent in Africans.

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The word Ubuntu is derived from a Nguni aphorism, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which can be translated as “I am because you are” or “humanity towards others”. According to literatures Ubuntu includes the essential virtues; compassion and humanity (Baken Johannes, 2015). African values provides for respect, dignity, caring and sharing. These values were considered critical for building African communities. For eons, the application of the Ubuntu philosophy have been pervasive and integrated as a way of life throughout Africa, shared by all tribes in Southern, central and West and East Africa amongst people of the Bantu origin. An example of the derivatives of the term in the Bantu languages are; Uganda — Abantu, Sesotho — Botho, Bemba — Umunthu and in Swahili — Utu (University of Pretoria, n.d.).

The principles and values of social justice can be directly linked to the understanding of Ubuntu. Entrepreneurial solutions for the African context can be derived from Ubuntu in practice, where communities engage socially and collaboratively to develop innovative support structures — solving some of their own intractable societal issues (“Social Entrepreneurship in Africa,” 2015).

Therefore, one can see how intricately compassion and social entrepreneurship are linked. Particularly with the considerations derived from the essence of Ubuntu. Compassion is a key contributor in really making a difference in people’s lives. In Africa, at some point — this was a way of life. This research aims to enrich the existing knowledge on the psychological foundations of social entrepreneurship in Africa, and builds on the theoretical argument that compassion is a key driver of social entrepreneurship.