Johannesburg - Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel
has called for a stronger support agency and training academies for social entrepreneurs, noting that social enterprises have the potential to contribute to the government's drive to create five million jobs in nine years.
Speaking at the official opening of the fourth annual Social Enterprise World Forum in Johannesburg on Monday night, Patel said if South Africa's social enterprise sector grew closer to the international norm, at least 260 000 new jobs would be created.
In terms of the new growth path, government has set a target of five million new jobs by 2020.
Patel said social economy was one of the "job drivers" on which the five million jobs target rested.
The developmental returns of the social economy and social enterprise were enormous, he said.
Social economy refers to economic activities that are undertaken by entities such as cooperatives, mutual societies, voluntary and community organisations, union investment vehicles and foundations.
The minister said social economy could contribute to a more labour absorbing and equitable economy, citing a study of 36 countries that showed that the non-profit sector outpaced the overall growth of employment by nearly 2.5 to 1.
Between 1990 and 2004, employment in European cooperatives rose from 2.2 million to 5.4 million.
Cooperatives form a crucial part of rural development in India, Thailand, Korea and Japan, he said.
Social economy, the minister said, was frequently under-recognised, under-appreciated and under-marketed.
Patel said comprehensive government and public support were needed for social economy entities in South Africa.
This included assistance with marketing, bookkeeping, technological and financial services, based in part on stronger cooperative support agency and training academies, he said.
Patel also said there were opportunities for social entrepreneurs to work with unions and community investment companies to develop a charter with commitments to job creation.
"We need to increase state procurement from and service delivery through entities in the social economy," he added.
Patel said what the government sought to promote was a partnership with the University of Johannesburg based on "concrete targets" for establishment, growth in turnover and size of employment in social enterprises.
The university's Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Social Economy is helping host the Social Enterprise World Forum, which is being held in Africa for the first time.
Patel said it would require that the university become a partner in hands-on mentoring, support and training with social entrepreneurs.