I read recently of a very interesting Social Experiment conducted in China. A group of people working for YDNewMedia decided to place self-service coin boxes near bus and metro stations with signs reading: “If you need money right now, please pick up a maximum of 5 Yuan (around 56p/63¢). If you have any spare money, please donate and help others.” The idea began when Cao Yi and his colleagues began a communal coin-box in their office, for when anyone would forget to bring coins to take the bus, they decided then to take this idea to the next level and potentially help the community, by placing similar coin-boxes near metro stations and bus stops. Cao’s company also backed this idea, providing support as well as filming the boxes as part of this Social Experiment. In the end, the results were very positive, with people showing a very giving nature and rarely taking more than the allocated allowance (more details can be found here).

However, for me, this is not the most interesting thing to be taken from this, albeit uplifting, story. Reading this article reminded me of the famous ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man here to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ – a popular idiom worldwide. While I understand that the intention of this group may not have been to dramatically and permanently change the lives of the people that their money reached, it did link in my mind to a TEDx talk I had seen recently “The Future is Social Entrepreneurship”. During a fantastic talk in Johannesburg, speaker Kerryn Krige explains the need for Social Entrepreneurship as an effective enabler of social development. What resonated most with me was a personal anecdote she used on the difference between ‘perpetuators and innovators’.

Applying this story to the wider context of South Africa, a nation divided dramatically in terms of socio-economic status, Krige determined that in this instance, she had been a perpetuator of this divide, rather than an innovator of change. Instead, she argues, social enterprise, that incorporates the element of working for profit, can be a conduit of true social mobility and impact.