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Big Ideas: Pamela Hartigan on why you don’t have to be a social entrepreneur to make change

   /   Sep 28th, 2010News

In our Big Ideas series, we check in regularly with top thinkers in the field of social innovation. We want to know what they’re working on, what questions they’re wrestling with, what opportunities and challenges they see up ahead for the sector.

Today we hear from Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Said Business School. The first managing director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Hartigan is a frequent lecturer on social entrepreneurship and innovation at graduate schools of business in the U.S., Europe and Asia. She is also co-author, with John Elkington, of The Power of Unreasonable People: How Entrepreneurs Create Markets to Change the World.

On how young business people are increasingly focusing on careers where they can be successful and make a difference: “[For] me the critical trend right now is how fired up business students are about harnessing their talents to create business models that are about sustainability for society and for the planet, and also allow them to live and pay their workers a decent wage.

“The old guard – people, say, my age – would say, ‘I’m going to go out and make a bucket of money and then I’m going to give it away when I’m 50 or 60.’ The younger generation say, ‘I don’t want to wait till I’m 50. I want to do this now.’ It’s combining both things right from the start.”

On why you don’t have to be a social entrepreneur to make change: “Most of my students will not be entrepreneurs, and we want to be able to say, ‘Look, you can be entrepreneurial wherever you are; you can be intrapreneurial. It’s not like you have to run out and set up your own business.’ Most people will never do that, because most people want a wage, they want security. Most people aren’t wacky like entrepreneurs, and so we want to infect them with this idea that wherever I am I can instigate the positive change that needs to happen.”

On the need for new kinds of markets: “I’m a real believer in markets, though I’m not ideological about them. I think money is great; it’s what you do with it [that matters]. What we really need more than anything are well-functioning, ethical markets – and I’m not talking about fair trade – with people behind them who are seeking to do the right thing.”

On the role of government in fostering social enterprise: “If you look back to 200 years ago, the regulatory functions and the entire ecosystem that allowed capitalism to grow and thrive, as Bill Drayton always points out – we’re in diapers in that regard with respect to the social sector. There’s a huge role for government to play here, creating incentives to set up more of the types of businesses that aren’t just about profit-maximization. We’re just at the beginning, I think, of a process of massive change. I really believe in bottom-up change, but it has to be accompanied by top-down regulatory frameworks.”

On the challenge of measuring impact: “We’re getting much better at measurement, but it remains a very thorny issue. One size is never going to fit all. And because many of these ventures are aiming at creating behavioral change, it takes a very long time to be able to measure that; and even then, who’s to say if it was your organization that caused a social change rather than a confluence of factors?”

On attracting top talent: “I have these MBA students who are fascinated by this field, but they say, ‘You know what? I have a huge student loan and I’m not going to be able to pay that off if I go work for a social venture. I have to go work for an investment bank.’ How do they make this a viable option? It’s a function of what fiscal and regulatory incentives there are to allow this sector to become more professionalized.”

On how far social entrepreneurship has come: “I can remember 10 years ago, you had these poor souls who seemed to be complete misfits in society and who had achieved remarkable things, and they didn’t know what they were–they were kooky engineers or wacko doctors or crazy lawyers. And I can remember the first time [The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship] brought these people together, there was such a bonding between them, even if they were doing things that were completely different, because all their lives they thought they were nuts!”

And why the term “social entrepreneurship” should be abandoned: “I can’t stand the term ‘social entrepreneurship.’ It served its purpose in building a sense of community. But community should not shut out others, and that’s the danger here. Not everyone is an entrepreneur – most people aren’t – and that’s okay. We need to be able to support the ones that are, and we need to be able to prepare people like the MBAs I see, who are not going to be entrepreneurs but are going to have to help those entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running and sustainable. And then, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t want to be called social entrepreneurs, because they feel it lumps them in with the do-gooders and the charities. So I wish we could dump the phrase.”

Photo: Skoll World Forum

3 Responses

  1. Hemant Sahal says:

    I completely agree with the fact that not everybody can be a entrepreneur and especially the young MBA’s who have education loan issues as aptly pointed by Pamela.

    But we can revive the education system that provides them enough opportunities and support to be a changemaker during there period of getting education. I mean not everyone wants to take social sector professionally.

  2. Jessica Tracy says:

    I understand Ms. Haritigan’s thoughts on the term “social entrepreneurship.” I began an MBA course this past week regarding Social enterpreneurship, and I realized I am one of those people that lumps the do-gooders in with actual social entrepreneurs. I believe that there has got to be a way to make others understand the differences between social entreprenuers and your standard do-gooders so that we don’t have to abandon the term, but I’m not sure how to go about that and hope to learn that through my course over the next few months.

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