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Interview with Social Entrepreneur Samantha Caccamo, founder of Social Business Earth

By Sharda ten Hove on 01 July 2012

Samantha Caccamo is the founder and CEO of Social Business Earth (SBE), a social business centre in Lugano, Switzerland. Their goal is to solve social problems and not to maximize profit. SBE is based on the new economic model by Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Seeing Social Business as the leading role in creating a sustainable world, we reached out to Samantha to inform and inspire our readers on how to participate and get involved.

Can you elaborate on what SBE is about?

Social Business Earth is a social business center based in Lugano, Switzerland, the first of its kind on Swiss territory that operates according to the principles of Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Our mission is to promote and implement Professor Yunus’ concept of social business in the world to solve social problems in a financially sustainable way and to eradicate poverty. SBE initiates social business projects and collaborations with universities, NGOs, the private sector and the government.  It offers workshops and consulting to individuals and organizations who wish to start a social business. It also incubates several social businesses starting by identifying a social problem, conducting research on the problem and finding a solution according to the guidelines of social business. After writing the business plan and establishing partnerships with local organizations involved in the social issue, we then access the funds and proceed to the implementation or start-up phase.

What are the goals that SBE has already accomplished plus what is still on the agenda? How can businesses as well as individuals get involved?

We have recently organized the first Annual Meeting of the Social Business Conference in May 2012 in Lugano and Zurich, Switzerland, in order to involve Swiss stakeholders in social business. We are designing new social business models to tackle social issues in Bangladesh and Switzerland in the sectors of healthcare and unemployment. We are negotiating the creation of a Social Business Fund with a financial institution. These are only some of the projects that are currently on our agenda.

Another goal we are working on at the moment is the creation of a social business to treat hearing impairments in poor children of Bangladesh so that they can lead a normal life and go to school. With a German company we have signed a partnership to create a social business providing a new screening device for hearing loss. The device is almost ready. Now we are working to find a solution to provide hearing aids to the poor at an affordable price.  Once we solve this we will start treating hearing impaired children on the ground in rural areas of Bangladesh in collaboration with Grameen Healthcare and Grameen Kalyan.

Civil society as well as the private, public and social sectors can all get involved in social business. If the CEO of a company or a private individual is interested in the creation of a social business we will guide them through the necessary steps to do that. Governments can participate by working with us to build an infrastructure for social business which will encourage it to flourish. In addition, young people can get involved in social business by applying for an internship with us.

The Grameen Bank is a microfinance organization that provides small loans to the poor without credit requirements.  Can you share with us some information about the organization?

Grameen Bank was the first bank in the world to provide collateral free loans to poor people for income generating activities. Such small loans are better known today as microcredit.  Since its inception in 1983 GB has loaned over USD 8.7 billion, some in portions of as little as USD 5. It has 8.3 million borrowers, 97% are women who are also owners of the bank.
It operates in 2,500 branches in over 83,400 villages of Bangladesh. It has a 96% loan recovery rate and a 99% literacy rate in second generation, meaning that all borrowers’ children must be sent to school. Education is one of the guiding principles of GB. Professor Yunus is the founder of the bank and he started the Grameen Project in 1976 in the village of Jobra, near Chittagong while teaching economics in the university. I visited different GB programs in Bangladesh, studied how microcredit works on the ground and was positively impressed by its benefits on the poor. During my visits I had the chance to speak to many GB borrowers who were very happy about the beneficial impact microcredit has in their life. My role in running Social Business Earth is to support Grameen and to make sure we raise awareness on the topics of microcredit and social business so that by implementing them we will provide better living conditions to the poor and the disadvantaged and ultimately eradicate poverty from Earth. I would also like to point out that the government of Bangladesh is trying to become the owner of Grameen Bank. I strongly oppose to this. Grameen has always been owned by the poor women borrowers who sit on the Board of Directors and should continue to operate in the same way.  Should this change the bank’s objectives and commitments will weaken. I sincerely hope this will not happen. I encourage everyone to take action so that Grameen Bank will remain an independently run financial institution that works exclusively for the poor.

How did you get involved in Social Business and what made you decide to start SBE?

By chance I met Professor Yunus once, although I believe that nothing happens by fortuitous chance. Everything happens for a reason. After meeting him I realized that his social business model is the one that makes most sense to me to tackle social issues and also to change the current economic system which doesn’t work. I have been involved in development projects in the past by participating in several programs as a volunteer both in so called developing and developed countries. This led me to establish my own social business organization, which is run as a social business. Although I own it and I run it I cannot take any dividends from it.

Besides being a Social Entrepreneur you are also a Zen Buddhist, practice yoga and Zen meditation. How does yoga and meditation support you in your business and could you possibly see this implemented in the corporate world?

I don’t think I would be a Social Business Entrepreneur if I was not a Zen practitioner. In my case Social Business and Zen are not separate things. There is no discernment between them. I don’t consider Zen meditation and Zen Buddhism as religion although many people do. Focusing on the inbreath and the outbreath is a daily practice of building awareness of yourself, understanding your thoughts and emotions, who you are and in turn understanding others while nourishing the compassion and selflessness within you. If we can’t understand ourselves we can’t possibly understand others and their problems. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves we cannot be compassionate towards others. A serious practitioner over the years increases his/her awareness and attention on the magic of life, on this very moment, the here and the now.  Looking deeply into the importance of each moment of life and the happiness that can be generated from each moment no matter the circumstances gives me the strength to overcome obstacles. This is the support that Zen practice provides me in my daily life. It is a very powerful force and a very practical tool. Meditation should be practiced in each business around the world. Every hour while working in the office take a break to focus your attention on your breathing and breathe in and out ten times. It helps to have a bell on your desk to remind yourself that when you are too caught in your work it is time to stop and come back to your breathing and your posture. You are alive in the here and the now! Present moment = wonderful moment. If you are lucky enough to feel this then you are happy and you can pass on that happiness to others. Unfortunately, billions of people lack the basic living conditions to be happy, like clean water, food and shelter etc. So in order for everyone to be happier we need to improve their lives first and make sure they have enough food to eat and healthcare services at their disposal. There is no question about it. This explains why my attention is on poverty alleviation and why I so strongly share the mission of my mentor, Professor Yunus.

Do you have a message that you would like to share with our readers?

Live mindfully and live in such a way that you are awake in the here and the now. If you are able to touch life deeply in every moment your energy will be felt in generations to come. Social Business is a mindful approach to solve social problems in an efficient way and to change a sad capitalistic system based on selfishness. Let’s do social business mindfully to create freedom, peace and happiness in and around us.

For more information on Social Business Earth please visit www.socialbusinessearth.org


About the author

Sharda ten Hove

Founder, Ethical Vegan, Yogi, Social Activist

Sharda was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Descended from an Indian mother and Dutch father, she received a multi-cultural upbringing during which she gained a broad perspective on life.…  Read full bio