Today's entrepreneurs are increasingly focused on both creating new and sustainable business which at the same time seek to resolve society's problems. This concept, known as social entrepreneurialism, is becoming increasingly popular in the startup community driven by the millennial generation, social media and crowdfunding platforms. Social entrepreneurship received global recognition from the efforts of Dr. Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh of who pioneered the concept of microfinance and for which he and Grameen Bank were co-awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Grameen Bank became famous for giving microloans mostly to Bangladeshi women to start businesses and boasts a repayment rate of above 99 percent. This proved that businesses could both be sustainable while at the same time promote social change.
Since then interest in social entrepreneurship has increased significantly, as for example in the UK, one in four entrepreneurs who desire to start a business wish to create a social enterprise. According to statistics from Social Enterprise UK, there are now more than 100,000 social enterprises in the country which comprise nine percent of small and medium sized businesses. These companies contribute nearly US$78bn to the country's economy annually and 3% of GDP and the 2018 data showed a 25% increase in this metric compared to 2015.
There is, however, evidence that social entrepreneurs face many barriers to success.
For example, according to data from UnLtd. 71% of social entrepreneurs have a hard time creating a sustainable revenue stream and making a living from a social venture, 60% have difficulty securing financing, 59% have difficulty selling to the public sector and 52% have difficulty in hiring the right talent. Therefore, the next generation of social entrepreneurs need training and support to help tackle these issues.
NEC has long recognized that social entrepreneurs can benefit from a support system and hence created the NEC Social Entrepreneurship School in 2002 in order to better equip future generations of social entrepreneurs. The program, in partnership with NPO Etic, offers a six-month program to aspiring social entrepreneurs who receive instruction, coaching, workshops and advice on how to successfully run a social enterprise. Participants also have access to NEC funding, hardware and personalized IT and management advice from NEC employee volunteers. As of March 2019, 62 groups have graduated form the NEC Social Entrepreneurship School.
The NEC Foundation of America (NECFAM) was established by NEC and its US subsidiary, NEC Corporation of America (NECUS), in 1991 with an endowment of US$10 million. The organization has a mission statement to create social value in the United States and to "demonstrate the full potential of people, we shall make contributions to society through technological innovation." NECFAM has a specific focus on improving several areas of society such as Science, Engineering, Math and Technology (STEM) education, health and human services, and community wellbeing. Recently, NECFAM has engaged in the following projects in these areas:
STEM Education: Recognizing the need for more women in the STEM industry, NECFAM has partnered with the Irma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School in Dallas, Texas to help train the next generation of female technology leaders. NECFAM has donated US$250,000 and will provide further funding, employee time and IT expertise in order to provide a new computer lab at the school. NECUS has also started a program to recruit young women as interns from the school.
Health and Human Services: NEC has a longstanding presence in the city of Irving, Texas located in the greater Dallas metropolitan area. For over 30 years Irving has been the home of NECUS headquarters. Over this time period, NEC has fostered a close working relationship with the city government, and Irving has adopted several NEC smart city solutions such as the NeoScan mobile biometric capturing solution. NECFAM, in an effort to bolster the quality and availability of human services in Irving made a US$112,000 charitable donation to the Irving Family Advocacy Center. The Irving Family Advocacy Center provides counselling services to families and children who have been victims of domestic violence, crime and abuse.
Community Wellbeing: NEC recognizes that military veterans often require additional community support when returning from overseas deployment as they often face significant physical and mental challenges. Upon learning of a veteran in need of support in Irving, NECFAM donated to Operation FINALLY HOME, a charity supporting US military veterans. Operation FINALLY HOME constructs custom-built, mortgage-free houses for ill, wounded or injured veterans, surviving spouses and their families and has completed over 250 projects in 33 states. In addition to the financial donation made by NECFAM, NECUS employees were given the opportunity to volunteer for this project and other projects supporting veterans.
The global food loss and waste problem continues to be a major economic, social and environmental issue as according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year representing almost one-third of global food production. This wastage represents economic losses of nearly one trillion US dollars annually in developed and developing countries. Food loss and wastage is also especially troubling as nearly 800 million people, one out of every nine are currently malnourished around the world.
Global food loss and waste also contributes a significant amount to climate change, as carbon emissions from food loss and waste comprise eight percent of the total human-based greenhouse gas emissions. If compared to country footprints emissions from food loss and wastage would be smaller than the footprint of the United States yet larger than that of India and would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Recognizing this problem, Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 calls for a halving of global food waste and reducing food losses worldwide by 2030. There has been some progress so far as two-thirds of the world's 50 largest food companies have committed to waste and loss reduction targets and 44% of large companies are starting to measure food waste. Thirty percent of the same companies are both monitoring and reporting food waste statistics.
Setting targets and providing new data is an important first step in reducing global food loss and wastage, but new technologies such as big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things will also play a large role in solving this problem. For example, NEC has recently developed a system which reduces food loss and wastage by utilizing its Artificial Intelligence capabilities. NEC's supply and demand optimization platform for food focuses on the problem of overproduced and unsold food, which in Japan alone accounts for 55% of food waste. NEC's optimization platform uses AI to improve demand forecasting across the food supply chain including manufacturing, wholesale, distribution and retail. AI provides optimal demand forecasts by using data such as shipping and sales results held by each company together with meteorological data. Based on the predicted values, more optimal production plans and ordering operations can be performed, leading to reduction of food loss on the value chain.
NEC created the Make-a-Difference-Drive (MDD) in 1999 in recognition of the need to support local communities where it operates around the world. Since then nearly 20,000 NEC employees have participated in local community contribution activities. MDD's operating slogan is "Making a Better Difference. Think Globally, Act Locally" and the program focuses on three mid-term themes for social contribution activities: welfare and diversity, environment and education, culture and sports.
At 85.73 years Singapore has the third-highest life expectancy in the world, only behind the microstate of Monaco at 89.32 years and Japan at 85.77 years. The median age in the country is rapidly increasing and has risen from 24.5 years in 1980 to an expected average age of 42.2 years in 2020 which is expected to again rise to 53.4 years by 2050. This rapid increase in the aging population in Singapore has put considerable financial and human resource strain on elderly care facilities in the county. Recognizing this as an important local issue NEC Asia Pacific staff decided to create an MDD project and volunteer their time with residents of the Lions Home for Elders in Bishan. NEC Singapore employees organized a food drive for residents and were able to spend time with seniors at the facility playing games and distributing holiday gifts.
NEC has also undertaken several MDD projects in Japan, and many of these projects have been focused on the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture which was devastated during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. NEC has been working in the town since the 2011 disaster under its "TOMONI" project, the Japanese word meaning "together". MDD activities in Minamisanriku have focused on revitalizing the city after the disaster in terms of improving the economy, encouraging tourism and providing comfort for residents. For example, to celebrate the opening of a new shopping district in the town, NEC designed and deployed its digital signage solutions to encourage shopping. The NEC Tamagawa band also played a free charity concert in Tokyo which was able to raise donations for local charities.
In order to fully fight the effects of climate change, multiple approaches are needed. Mitigating the impact of greenhouse gas emissions will be necessary and society will have to adapt to the impending natural disasters resulting from climate change. This article focuses on how new technologies can help mitigate the impact of climate change.
A massive transformation of the energy industry is seen as the key action item for halting climate change as the sector currently accounts for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, a 90% decrease in emissions will be required by 2050 in order to prevent the average global temperature from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius and would fulfill obligations pledged under the Paris Agreement. Doing so will also prevent predicted catastrophic events such as flooding caused by melting ice caps and subsequent rising sea levels. However achieving this requires an accelerated shift towards carbon-neutral energy technologies.
There has been some global progress in terms of transforming the energy sector towards renewable sources. As of 2018, 26.2% of the world's electricity production comes from renewable sources. Of the total percentage coming from renewable sources, 15.8% comes from hydropower, 5.5% comes from wind power, 2.4% comes from solar power and the rest coming from other clean sources. Since 2012, more than half of the new power capacity installed is coming from clean sources.
Clean energy sources also present new challenges for electricity generation. For example, technologies such as solar power and wind power do not provide a stable flow of energy due to environmental conditions. Therefore, new smart grids must be able to intelligently manage fluctuations in supply and demand. NEC is a leader in supplying such solutions to the energy industry which in turn are helping to combat climate change. NEC's subsidiary, NEC Energy Solutions currently offers an intelligent energy storage system which allows renewable power providers to maintain frequency and voltage across a smart grid with fluctuating power supplies. NEC Energy Solutions also offer medium-sized industrial batteries which enterprises can use to store power when using renewable power sources.
NEC is actively working around the world to promote these smart energy solutions which are helping to combat the effects of climate change. In 2019, the company had several notable installations of smart energy technology including a 9MW storage system in greater London and an intelligent solar power management system in Brazil.
Today’s entrepreneurs are embracing the fact that new venture companies can both mature into viable businesses while tackling social issues at the same time, a concept known as “social entrepreneurship.” NEC has long recognized this trend and has created several initiatives to support this concept such as its Social Entrepreneur Development Project and Social Entrepreneur School. These initiatives seek to foster future business leaders engaged in social entrepreneurship, but NEC also has a program designed to provide hands-on support to the community via its Pro Bono Initiative.
NEC has over 100,000 global employees who have both deep ICT sector and industry vertical expertise, and the Pro Bono Initiative seeks to offer these services to aspiring social entrepreneurs at no cost. Through the program, NEC internally recruits small teams of employees who can advise and assist social enterprises. Since its inception in 2010, the Pro Bono Initiative has deployed 169 employees on projects since March of 2018.
The Pro Bono Initiative has engaged in several community-serving projects by partnering with social venture companies. Some notable examples include the following:
The Pro Bono Initiative partnered with the Information & Communication Technology Rescue Team, an NPO which seeks to help disabled people to use ICT technologies to enjoy a higher quality of life in Japan. The group holds seminars where people with special needs can discover new technologies such as specialized communication software for those with physical impairments. NEC was able to assist this organization by helping them to formulate a business plan and to develop human resources.
Another organization to which the Pro Bono Initiative lent its support is Lots Ltd. Lots is a social venture which has assisted in various disaster recovery efforts in Japan and has provided many community services to areas affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The company has struggled to recruit in-home healthcare workers to meet demand and hence has partnered with NEC in order to receive support for publicity and staffing needs.
The Minamisanriku Tourist Organization is another organization which has received support from NEC’s Pro Bono Initiative. The town of Minamisanriku was one of the worst-affected areas of the 2011 tsunami and recovery efforts are still ongoing, as the town has tried to revitalize itself by rebranding as a tourist destination. NEC has provided support to the Minamisanriku Tourist Organization through the Pro Bono Initiative by providing advice on how to leverage new technologies to promote tourism in the area.
More recently in 2019 the Pro Bono Initiative was active in supporting local governments including the city of Kakegawa in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture. NEC supported the local government in a project to preserve and expand the use of kappu, a traditional handwoven textile made from the kudzu plant. Two workshops were held bringing together 150 participants from the local government, residents and others to discuss how to promote and expand the use of kappu. As a result, 14 new projects were created.
(March 19, 2020)