For an assignment for my fellowship, I wrote a brief piece answering several questions about my views on social enterprise:
Social enterprises are the confluence of for-profit strategy with social sector mission. Social enterprises often pursue a triple-bottom line of positive economic, environmental, and social impact. One of the biggest strengths of social enterprises is that they take the best values and strategies from the for-profit and non-profit communities. Social enterprise founders are action-oriented and take risky, creative approaches to solving global challenges.
While for-profit companies still view their role of providing shareholder value in entirely monetary terms, social enterprises create shareholder value through both monetary and positive social impact returns. However, we are starting to see a shift in for-profit organizations—Unilever as one example—towards triple-bottom line approaches. Non-profits still largely run on a donation-based model. Social enterprises aim for more self-sufficiency through for-profit business strategies and are therefore more subject to market forces than traditional non-profits.
I am very concerned with the abundance of social enterprise start-ups. Many new enterprises, working in isolation, waste resources instead of creating real, sustainable, collective impact through collaboration and bringing human and financial resources to existing organizations. Furthermore, becoming a social entrepreneur is trendy yet not everyone is meant to be a founder. Instead, would-be founders should use entrepreneurial thinking, or intrapreneurship, to bring change to existing organizations. I’m also concerned with the investor emphasis on scale. Many social enterprises work because they target a specific customer-base through human-centered design approaches. I fear an overemphasis on scale at a detriment to sustainable, local impact.
In today’s global economy, social enterprise is a movement for change. I believe that real positive social change will only come through implementing holistic solutions, and social enterprise provides the framework for those solutions. As social entrepreneur Bill Drayton of Ashoka argues: we don’t need to hand out fish or teach others how to fish; we need to change the fishing industry entirely.