There are still different opinions out there about how to define a social enterprise. However, it is almost common sense that it is something related to “doing good”. Of course, it is hard to see clearly, how is it possible to earn money while doing something “good/useful” responsibly with morals. Somehow most of us are conditioned in a way that we often associate business with corporate greed. The words business and money in general often have negative connotation among those who are concerned about social and environmental challenges. It is actually very true in many cases. Enormous multinationals with concentrated power regularly get to the point that they exhaust environmental and social resources while harming not only the biological but also the human related ecosystems too. We can say that it is time to give back, and we should design businesses to prevent any kind of exhaustion. With other words we have to aim for BALANCE. There are various ways to approach the concept of social entrepreneurship.
The main question was:
What to start with? (the following options came up)
In this last case the biggest challenge is to build up the managerial frame of the business which is structurally just like any other business. Meanwhile we have to encode step by step the “social/environmental idea” in the DNA of the company. By doing so, the company represents a message in its core with its activities, company culture and communication. This would be the ideal case and some genuine and talented social entrepreneurs are able to build their companies like this. At this point we must mention that in recent years many customers are aiming to consume on a more “responsible” manner by choosing products and brands with certain sustainability labels. Many big companies know this and mainly for PR purposes that generate their sales, they tend to come up with social enterprise-“like” projects, activities and label them. Consequently, it often occurs that in their core they keep doing the heavily exhausting activities while - because of their small but “responsible” actions - costumers develop a positive image about these companies. Here we can discover a little bit of overlap with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) that has become a requirement in the European Union for companies with certain size and profile (see article: https://goo.gl/AH8j7Y). In short, doing something good is very appealing to customers and it can bring a lot of profit for the companies. Therefore, we as customers must be careful and critical.
Besides gaining a broad idea about; what is a social enterprise? During the table discussion the character of the social entrepreneur has been also discussed and partially defined.
The main questions were:
One of the most important things that we have to keep in mind is that we can come up with nice ideas about how to change the world and how we should run business differently. However if we cannot implement them in practice these ideas worth nothing. The bottom line is; in order to bring our ideas into reality we must have strong skills. We have to be good at something. However, having some strong skills still does not necessarily mean that we are capable to start up a business, carry on for a couple of years, have patience, stand up after we fail and eventually succeed. The motivation has to be more than just simply money making.
Our inspiration has to come from deep within. From our soul or heart or both that is also called inner drive. Often we cannot intellectually conceptualize why we do what we do. But it is well worth to ask ourselves: What do we want to do with our life? And how can we contribute to a better world?
If we ask ourselves these questions before taking bigger actions, we can be almost sure that we will become a social agent anyways. Knowing our purpose and mission will give us extra power in the times when we need it. In short: Whatever we are going to do, it should be very meaningful to us.
Throughout the discussion, two initiatives from participants were also touched upon together with the idea of creating ecosystems that are cooperating. The concept of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was also mentioned which is a beautiful example of already existing balanced ecosystems.
It is important to mention that in today’s world we are surrounded by many highly centralized and in their nature very linear systems. Just think about long and chaotic supply chains e.g. food, electronics, cars.
These systems are representing the earlier mentioned exhausting models. Because of their size and complexity their pitfalls are often not recognized. Other times the outcomes of these pitfalls are reflected towards the small producers (think about poor farmers) or even towards the consumers (think about western epidemics because of fast food) while multinationals earn their (un)fair share by maintaining and promoting these systems.
In a nutshell we have to see the systems that we are surrounded with and try to find the answers of the problems on a system level too. Because the exhaustion is the result of our long term actions and participation in systems rather than of randomly occurring events.
As a help to understand what I mean by system change I would highly recommend you to watch the following Ted Talk which was also mentioned during the table discussion.
Reclaiming Social Entrepreneurship | Daniela Papi Thornton | TEDxBend ( https://goo.gl/3hXutA)
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