Social Entrepreneurship: For Profit or Not For Profit?

According to the Wikipedia definition, a social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change. Whereas business entrepreneurs typically measure performance in profit and return, social entrepreneurs assess their success in terms of the impact they have on society. This definition highlights the fact that social entrepreneurs evaluate their success on how much help they offer to society while the main focus of business as usual is revenues and profits. However, the question remaining is: Is it indispensable for social entrepreneurs to generate income and profit?
The definition of “entrepreneurship” also given by Wikipedia states that entrepreneurship is the act and art of being an entrepreneur or one who undertakes innovations or introducing new things, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods (…) The most obvious form of entrepreneurship is that of starting new businesses; however, in recent years, the term has been extended to include social and political forms of entrepreneurial activity.
There are many forms of social entrepreneurship, as many as social needs waiting to be covered. Some of them may fit in some sort of business model where income is generated by the activity which pursues to satisfy the social need. Some others, however, may be uniquely based on an innovative idea which tackles a social issue with no income generation. This is due, in my opinion, to the fact that some social matters cannot be wholly explained in economic terms. The two main paradigms of these type of matters are probably health and educational issues. But let’s take the example of the social entrepreneur Faustino García Zapico and his idea of the Unidad Terapeútica y Educativa (UTE) implemented in the penitentiary of Villabona, Asturias. The UTE has proven to contribute to solve the social issue of rehabilitation of convicts who leave the jail after they have served their sentence. In Spain, penitentiaries are a public matter. Therefore, they are funded by the State and considered in economics as an “expense.” In spite of the fact that the implementation of the TUE may actually save some money to the spanish State Department in the long term, there is no “business model” as such in Faustino’s initiative. Nevertheless, his innovative idea is reducing the rate at which convicts commit new crimes when they are freed regardless of the economics.

Sustainable Urban Planning in China: The Case of Dongtan.

When looking at the issue of sustainable urban planning, many distinctions, reviews and classifications can be done depending on the perspective or approach taken. Amongst them, it can be said that sustainable urban planning can be applied either to already existent cities or to new urban developments. Needless to say, the difficulties and limitations faced in each scenario differ very much.

One may think the principles of sustainable urban planning would be applied more widely and easily to new projects which aim to build new urban settlements from scratch. Coincidently enough, China is a country where many cities are being created from nothing much like the planned city of Dongtan, a city located on Chongming Island, 25 kilometers away from Shanghai.

In theory, the still undeveloped city of Dongtan will be one of the first truly “eco”- cities in the world. The plans for the city include extensive construction incorporating green and sustainable principles throughout. The consulting firm overseeing the project “produced a masterplan along with sustainability guidelines for Dongtan that included key aspects related to ecological management of wetlands, energy, resource and waste management, buildings, transport and sustainability. In terms of ecological management of wetlands, the plans aimed to have ‘buffer zone’ between the city and the mud floods returning a agricultural land to a wetland state. 40% of the land area of the site was dedicated to urban areas and the city’s design aims to prevent pollutants (light, sound, emissions, and water discharges) from reaching the wetlands” (Sustainable Urban Development and the Chinese Eco-City: Concepts, Strategies, Policies and Assessments, May Hald, p. 52).

In the plans, each area was carefully designed to adhere as closely to the guidelines for sustainable urban planning as possible.  Below are some examples of what was planned for each area:

Energy– energy supply was to be supported via a local grid and electricity and heat supplied by four different means: a combined heat and power plant running on biomass in the form of rice husks; a windfarm; biogas extracted from the treatment of municipal solid waste and sewage; and photovoltaic cells and microwind turbines.

Buildings — the buildings were to be combination of old and new building technologies that would reduce the energy consumption by 70%.  Green roofs were also a part of the plan.

Resource and Waste Management — the waste would be recycled or used as biomass for energy production with the goal being to collect 100% of all waste in the city and recover up to 90% of collected waste.

Transport — transport energy demand would be reduced because there would be a reduction in the use of vehicles and a system of electric vehicles would be provided when needed. This would reduce air and noise pollution which also enable buildings to be naturally ventilated, reducing the demand on energy. Other parts of the masterplan included bikepaths, pedestrian routes and various types of public transportation, such as solar powered water taxis. Most notably, visitors would use public transportation within the city and leave their vehicles parked outside of it.

As is stated in Cities of Tomorrow: Challenges, Visions, Ways Forward (p. 42) “cities are not just economic engines, they are unrivalled as providers of the basic ingredients for quality of life in all its senses: environmental, cultural and social” and those who spear-headed the masterplan for Dongtan reflected this in their masterplan for the city.  “The city was designed so that all housing would be within seven minutes walk of public transportation and easy access to the social infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and work. The aim was to set up a sustainable, resource efficient, culturally rich city environment and change the way a city influences nature and society” (Hald, p. 53).

Moreover, the plans for Dongtan included a city that would not only be a model for sustainable urban planning technically-speaking but also a city that is attractive and appealing to residents and visitors alike. “The quality and aesthetics of the built environment and of public spaces are important factors for a city’s attractiveness. Well functioning and attractive public spaces and a generally aesthetic environment can act as symbols of a city and of living together, and may create a sense of ownership of the city by its population” (“Cities of Tomorrow: Challenges, Visions, Ways Forward”, p. 48).

While the signing ceremony for Dongtan occurred on January 19, 2008 and its partial completion was planned for 2010, the construction has been halted indefinitely, due to a corruption scandal and problems concerning who would ultimately fund the project. The future of Dongtan, as of April 2013, although uncertain, is not entirely grim. Recently, a glimmer of hope has been shed on the city of Dongtan. The city, which would have housed 500,000 people by the year 2050 and was conceived out of the necessity in China for more urban areas and strategies to accommodate its growing population, has recently been connected to its neighboring Shanghai by a bridge and a tunnel signaling a potential return to development.

“Others don’t believe that Dongtan was ever meant to be built and was just another example of greenwashing. There are also questions about whether the city will be as sustainable as it claims.” (Dashed Dreams of an Eco-City: The Failure of Dongtan Eco-City on Chongming Island, China, Sophie Plottel,, April 2013).

All over Asia, the continent where most development is expected in the next decades, sustainable urban iniciatives are being implemented in new cities. In addition, many old cities in Europe and other parts of the world are undertaking sustainable solutions where possible. However, the dream of a new rolemodel city which is created and functions according to 100% ecological and sustainable criteria has yet to be realized.



Values vs. drivers. What can actually make an SME be more responsible? How responsible an SME must/can be? What about already existent companies and start-ups? Are there any differences? First, let’s talk about the real world, about the real economy.
In the real economy, SMEs usually have a more constraint budget than big multinationals. And when crisis hits, many SMEs struggle just to survive; some others do not even make it. CSR departments are hard to find in SMEs, specially in the smallest ones. And it is usually so, not because the company’s size makes it unpractical to have an actual “department,” and CSR is embedded in the core of the company, but, rather, because CSR is not even considered. On the other hand, the aggregate of all the SMEs in any given country accounts for most of the employment and wealth creation of the country, even in the USA. This means that there is huge potential for improvement in the sector, and, therefore, it is crucial to get SMEs involved in CSR. The remaining question is how.
One may think that a sustainable value-driven SME is the best scenario for implementing good CSR practices. In principle, value-driven CEOs are more committed people. They usually are creative and spur their employees to be creative in tackling issues on how to be more socially or environmentally responsible in the way they do business. They know that being a responsible SME is a process, and that there is no magic solution for every issue, but, generally speaking, they are more prone to change for good. Also, a company which is value-driven at the very moment it is created may be less of a challenge with regards to CSR implementation than changing the culture of an already established company from business as usual to creating and being moved by value. However, in the real world, not every company is value driven. In fact, nowadays, most of the SME’s are not value driven, although the trend is that there will be more in the future. For these other, more traditional SMEs, the key factor to succeed in getting them on the boat of CSR is finding the right driver, which is also very challenging. It requires making SMEs understand what is in it for them when they apply this or that CSR practice.
As a consequence, it is not values vs. drivers. It is actually values and drivers together what may bring about more sustainable and responsible SMEs.

Rural Development: Poverty & Food Security

Poverty and food security are two of the most important issues humanity is currently facing and will have to face in the near future, and yet, it is not as much a part of the global agenda as it should be. While at times it seems like it is being addressed, or at least taken into consideration, the effort that has been made is not nearly enough.
According to the World Bank, “there is no more important policy challenge than ensuring food security for all. As we have seen, however, this is a particularly difficult challenge. It involves not just ensuring the availability of adequate food in total, but that all people have access, at all times, to safe, nutritious food. Reducing poverty is a key element in a policy for food security, because poor people spend such a large share of their incomes on food, leaving them vulnerable to high food prices, and many poor people obtain much of their income from farming, leaving them vulnerable to declines in agricultural output. But reducing poverty is not sufficient, because of the many risks to the food security of the near-poor from a wide range of shocks. A key for policy is to avoid the many apparently simple and attractive policy options for dealing with food security challenges that could actually make the situation worse” (“Food Security and Poverty– A Precarious Balance”, This is an interesting quote. I totally agree with the last sentence, although such statement must not be the excuse for not implementing any policy strategy at all. On the other hand, it is still shocking to me to find a blog post like this one on the website of an international organization which has proven not to care that much (to say the least) about the real causes of poverty and food insecurity since its creation. Some experts in development say things are changing in the WB. Whether that is true or not, I cannot assure. However, the sole fact that the World Bank’s Chief Economist hosts a blog with the title: “Let’s talk development,” at the very minimum, holds the WB more accountable for its policies regarding development. There is an obvious link between poverty and food security. Yet,  as the quote highlights, reducing poverty is not sufficient. I would even go further and argue that the problem of food security should be tackled as a single main issue which subordinates other issues like markets and markets failures, international and national politics, research and development, etc… In other words, acknowledging the influence of poverty in food insecurity, the issue of global food security for the future cannot be addressed just from a purely economic or market-based perspective, without taking into consideration other social and political variables and factors.
Food security is a very complex issue which requires a smart combination of policies. Vested interests entail a burden which must be overcome. In order to do that, strong political will heading in the right direction at both national and international level is key.

DP: Some Conclusions and More Questions

In my first post of this blog I confessed that I had a difficult time choosing a topic. I also acknowledged that the topic I wanted to talk about was not concrete: the role of new development perspectives in the world in the years to come. Actually, I did not give a title as assertive as this one to my first post. Instead, it was entitled: “D.P: A Few Questions and Reflections.” As a matter of fact, I think that the title I chose was quite suitable since the post unfolded as a series of reflections and questions about development, emerging from inspiration I drew upon from the documentary about a company’s struggle and tragic end in the aerial navigation sector in Spain.
A few weeks have gone by since I published my first post, and during this time I have kept reflecting and coming up with more questions I would like to pose in this new post. In addition to this, I intend to give my opinion about some of the questions and reflections I presented at that time:
1. One of the questions I asked was whether the model of mainstream development (in general, the one modern, so-called “western” societies have based its development on) was failing or not. In spite of what is stated in one of the chapters of Maggie Black’s book, the no-nonsense guide to international development, which defends the idea that, and I quote: “Development is political,” I think that, as difficult as it is to stay away from the ideological and political debate about pretty much every topic nowadays, it is fair to say that, from a purely empirical point of view, and setting aside all kind of politics, the current model of development is failing as a system. If the purpose of the concept of development when it was born back in the 1950s was to eradicate poverty in the world, not only has poverty not disappeared today but the poorest people of the world are getting poorer and poorer, and the gap between rich people and poor people getting wider and wider. Even without taking into consideration the figures (The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier), this sole fact accounts for a legitimate system failure. However, although it is not necessary to include politics in the equation to prove that there is something wrong in the way development (all of what this term involves) is being tackled, I also agree with Maggie Black when she states in her book that, and I quote again: “any transformation in society is a political process.” Therefore, politics and its dynamics cannot be ignored nor can anyone working in development look the other way when he or she runs into a political issue. Most of the times, it is not possible; the rest of them, it is not convenient.
2. Another question or set of questions I posed in my previous post, which I would like to write some words about, are the ones referring to whether new development theories should be applied in specific fields or in a holistic manner; whether they should be customized to the different levels of development the different countries in the world are in or just applied to the more disadvantaged ones; do most developed countries need new development perspectives?; is a global application feasible?; is it convenient?
All these questions remain as challenging as several weeks ago. However, I have come to the conclusion that there is a basic principle which must be followed: to make “the international” local. This expression means two things: If we, as members of the human race, still want to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged people in the world, international aid and support for development may help but only if it is part of very well thought-out strategies and plans designed and decided by local people, who would point out what their needs are and how they want to proceed. Empowerment is key and it may well solve the question of what development should be. It should be what people want it to be. It seems a good democratic solution. Guidelines must be inspired by human rights, which should be more developed themselves and acquire more and more momentum in the regional, national and international arena.
3. So then the question still pending would be: Is Capitalism still valid? In this case, I do not dare to answer the question… Could it be modified? Should it be removed by a better system? As I stated above, it is quite obvious to me that Capitalism, as a system, is failing with regards to the fulfillment of the development goals. The case of Spanair in the last post raises some questions and issues related to the economic dynamics of capitalism, some latent or not as latent social unrest and sustainability. I believe there is no one-size-fits-all solution. At the same time, there are new business and non-profit initiatives which are trying to address development issues by using out-of-the-box ideas which do not obey the rules of the capitalist paradigm. Nevertheless, we must remember that there are millions of people in the world who live according to other economic, social and political systems.
To conclude, I would like to highlight a very important aspect which is not usually contemplated by development agents, and, when it is, it is not done adequately: the psychological aspect. If new development perspectives are looking more at indicators like happiness and well-being (social and environmental considerations rather than purely economic or macroeconomic ones), more focus should be given to assess psychological distress caused by some development practices during the last decades and improve mental health of disadvantaged people.


Session 1: KEY CONCEPTS OF ECOLOGY. Unknown Complexity. Biotic (1) + Abiotic (1) = More than 2

MKTG Video

Here in my Marketing video, enjoy!

DP: A Few Questions and Reflections

I had spent many days agonizing over what to write for my first entry because I did not know how to address the fact that there were so many development issues in which I was very interested. I finally realized that the many topics I am interested in is what I wanted to talk about in my blog. For example, some questions I have asked myself are: how new development perspectives can or should affect the world in the future? Can or should they be applied to specific fields or in a holistic manner? Can or should they be applied only to less “developed” countries or to more “developed” countries, too? If they could, would they be applied the same way in every country?

This sort of “revelation” came to me while I was watching a documentary about a Spanish airline called Spanair. The documentary was called El Precio de Volar, and it analyzed the process of restructuring the company in 2009 due to bad financial results of the previous months together with the implications for all the stakeholders. Long story short, at the end of the process, the company had downsized its flight crew and staff on land, and sold some of its aircrafts. The documentary ended as follows: “during the last months, the new Board of Directors of Spanair has worked to relaunch the company; it moved the base of its operation to the T1 (Terminal One of Barcelona’s airport), searched for financial support, reduced costs, laid off some employees, changed its commercial image and strategy and it is working on unifying the fleet. And all this work, just to keep flying in times of crisis.” Unfortunately, Spanair publicly announced the end of its operations on January 28th this year. This is just an example of the effects of the economic crisis in the sector of the aerial navigation. From the beginning of the crisis several airlines all over the world have had to close down, while some of them have not done so because they have been bailed out by governments. However, every economic sector has been affected. The crisis is global (financial crisis, debt) and local (recession, unemployment) at the same time. Some countries are very much suffering its consequences, whereas other countries are being tangentially affected due to economic globalization. But, it is fair to say that this crisis is a crisis of the “developed” world. Some people even say that it is a crisis of the system as a whole. Does it mean that the model of development is failing?

The documentary about Spanair did not answer this question; rather, it raised some others that I would like to share in this post:

1. In spite of the fact that the stakeholders of the company (Board of Directors, Union Representatives, shareholders, employees of all the departments) were not really communicating to each other their points of view about the situation because they were suspicious of each other, they all shared the same goal: saving the company. Why would they be suspicious of each other if they all shared the same goal? And, if they all shared the same goal, why did they not succeed?
2. As a result of the cease of activities of Spanair, some unwanted consequences unfolded: unemployment, administrative sanctions, criminal investigations, etc. Were they unavoidable? Who is to blame for each of them?
3. In the last years, why have some airlines disappeared due to the crisis and some other airlines have been bailed out by some governments?
4. What is the role of consumers in all this?

Here are also some of the reflections the documentary inspired in me:

1. The Spanair case is a local one pertaining to a specific economic reality: the economic crisis in Spain. However, some other non-spanish airlines have been wiped out of the market in the last three or four years and many others have required financial aid by their governments.
2. Currently, Spain belongs to the group of “developed” countries according to the parameters of mainstream definition of development based on economics. And yet, more and more people in Spain are protesting and showing their dissatisfaction and even despair on the streets.
3. Spanair failure did not affect all the stakeholders the same. Some of them lost some of their savings; most of them lost their jobs; some were in a better economic and financial situation than others; some had more skilled jobs; some others wage was only 1000 euros a month… And yet, even the weakest stakeholder did not end up in an economic situation which could be compared to the economic situation of millions of people in the poorest countries.
4. In some of these poorest countries, news related to commercial airlines are usually about human casualties in air crashes and accidents due to poorly maintained old aircrafts.

As I said earlier, all these questions and reflections about the Spaniar documentary do not answer the questions in the first and second paragraphs. They are not intended to do so. In fact, the questions in the first and second paragraphs may be too ambitious for someone to try to answer them at all. Nevertheless, I would like to finish with some suggestions regarding development which emerge from all these questions and reflections:

1. It may be a good idea to include the social and environmental aspects in the core of development together with the economic one.
2. It may also be a good idea to understand development as a concept serving human beings’ happiness where human beings (not any system) may be able to responsibly decide what development is.
3. It may also be good to highlight the individual responsibility in deciding what development is for oneself and not impeding or, even better, respecting and contributing to the development of others.
4. Finally, there may be a limit to individual development: Planet Earth.

Overwhelmingly delighted, happy, at home

Ok! Here we go!

First, a word about the title of this post. It describes my current state of mind: Overwhelmingly delighted; although at first glance the expression may seem self-explanatory, it is not quite so. Indeed, I am delighted to have chosen this master’s program and to be sharing this experience with you guys, but what I also mean with this somewhat strange phrasing is that after almost three months of master’s I also feel very overwhelmed by all the food for thought I have been receiving. So, basically, I am delighted in an overwhelming way, if this is even possible; or delighted and overwhelmed at the same time… In simpler words, I am happy to be here among all of you (this is going to sound very sentimental and maybe even prissy) and I feel like finally I am home.

I’ve also been reading your blogs and, wow, I am amazed. Thank you. I am learning a lot from all of you, both at an intellectual and a personal level. As for me, although I am a newcomer to the field of sustainable development, I will try to give my best.

Like I said, I’m looking forward to continuing sharing this wonderful experience, and it is my wish and hope that this master’s is just the beginning of long personal and professional relationships.

Your friend.



As soon as the Doha 2012 UN Climate Change Conference was over and the final agreement was released by the president, loads of articles and opinions began to be published all over the world with the aim of measuring the level of success or failure of the conference based on its outcome. But even before that, any unbiased and inexpert observer could have guessed that any possible outcome resulting from the conference was going to be called unsatisfactory by Anti-Climate Change activists, whereas some governmental or institutional representatives were going to assess the same outcome as an advance in the plight against Climate Change. That is the magic of politics…

For what it is worth, and as far as I have been able to understand from all the discussion and debate before, during and after the conference, the only meaningful outcome of the agreement reached is the extention of the Kyoto Protocol for the European Union, Australia, Norway and Croatia until 2020. Yes, Japan, Canada and Russia decided to drop out. And, no, none of the current or up and coming major polluters stepped forward. But, given the opportunity as a free man to either look at the bright side of life or be pesimistic about the future, I choose the first option. In the end, it is a matter of personal choice.

This sort of multilateral international conference is always very intense, heavily politicized and chaotic. This is the nature of meetings, conventions and fora of any kind in the international arena. And it is particularly so when the task to be adressed is as complex as Climate Change. It may be difficult to come to agreements and achieve clear cut results in the short term; the entire international community is involved, countries are at different stages of development, and there are too many political and economical interests and lobbies but negotiations must go on because failure is not an option.

Doha 2012 has also set a calendar for drafting a new agreement on Climate by May 2015 which will sustitute the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. Its legal form is yet to be decided but it is meant to be aplicable to every member state of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to which pivotal countries like the United States, China and India are signatories. Regarding this new agreement and its likely funding mechanism, I will dare to make a recommendation; given the current fragile financial situation of most of the so-called wealthy states due to their increasingly bulky public debt, I would suggest that their governments, parliaments and the alike build up such funding by raising taxes instead of resorting to the financial markets in order to avoid conflict of interests. Civil society will understand and respond to the call, and progress in tackling Climate Change mitigation and adaptation would be boosted.

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