But speaking at the Business School this week, the founder of Ikirezi Natural Products, Dr Nicholas Hitimana will say significant challenges remain.
He will call on the international business community to help find new ways to quantify the social benefits these enterprises can deliver, in order to make them more attractive to potential investors.
Having escaped the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, the entrepreneur and his family came to Scotland, where he gained a PhD in agriculture from the University of Edinburgh.
Hitimana was working on a USAID Rwandan agricultural consultancy project in 2002 when he spotted the market potential of essential oils and natural plant products.
With higher profit margins than coffee and requiring more labour-intensive production, it created a significant opportunity for small farmers to maximise revenues.
As a model it draws together divided communities around a collective effort to lift themselves out of poverty.
Underpinned with the values of dignity, community, sustainability and Ubuntu (meaning: you are, because I am) Ikirezi has since trained more than 1000 subsistence growers, many of them women and orphans of the genocide, in the new methods and crops to become professional farmers.
Ikirezi now counts international cosmetics firms pharmaceutical giants like among the clients for clients for its organic essential oils.
Dr Nicholas Hitimana said:
“Poverty is not a choice. But together with social exclusion it is one of the primary causes of conflict today.
“Social enterprise has an enormous potential to heal divisions, and even avert conflict by giving people the means to lift themselves out of poverty.
“But there is an urgent need to find ways to quantify the social benefits they can deliver, if we are to make them attractive to investors.
“The more investment we are able to achieve, the better chance we stand in scaling our enterprises and inspiring more indigenous entrepreneurs to find their own opportunities.”
Thanks to strong social economic government programmes more than 1 million people have been lifted out of poverty in Rwanda since 2006. The Ikirezi experience shows that ssocial entreprises can make a major contribution in lifting people out of poverty.
Professor Richard Harrison is co-chair of University of Edinburgh Business School’s Centre for Strategic Leadership. He said:
“Peace entrepreneurship has a fundamental role in rebuilding the appropriate economic foundations, tackling social exclusion and reconciling broken communities after a conflict.
“Nicholas’ success with Ikizeri shows just how great a role leadership can have in reconciliation.
“Not only that, it shows social enterprises can become efficient, profitable businesses which can create substantial opportunities for the right investors.”
Dr Nicholas Hitimana speaks at University of Edinburgh Business School on 8 September, in the first of a series of new Thought Leadership Breakfast Seminars for the Compassionate Leadership Initiative. Register now.