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Opinion: Why not Everyone Should be A Social Entrepreneur

Aug 6th, 2012Uncategorized

By Lara Galinsky

“I want to be a social entrepreneur.” I hear it nearly every day. Not just from those applying for Echoing Green’s social entrepreneurship fellowship, but from high school students, college students, and young professionals. They excitedly tell me that they want to launch organizations to improve education in Africa, to better the livelihood of women in inner city Chicago, or solve any number of other big problems. It’s clear that this field has captured the imagination of the Millennial generation. From Babson to Berkeley, students today can take a variety of courses on social entrepreneurship, minor in the subject, and will soon be able to major in it. Today, more than 30 business schools offer substantive programs at the graduate level, when just a few years ago such a thing was unheard of.

You would think as someone who works in an organization that promotes the social entrepreneurship movement, I would be happy about this explosion in popularity. And I am. But, it is not without its dangers.

There is something alluring about being a social entrepreneur. Echoing Green’s fellowship, along with other similar programs, shines a bright light on social entrepreneurs, often making them stars. At Echoing Green, we pull about 20-30 of these stars from 3,500 applications each year.

But social entrepreneurs alone cannot change the world.They need artists, volunteers, development directors, communications specialists, donors, and advocates across all sectors to turn their groundbreaking ideas into reality. They need fundraisers, supporters who can change policies, someone to create a brochure describing their work. If everyone wants to start a new organization, who is going to do all the work?

It’s time for those of us in this field to help young people see the variety of ways and venues in which they can have a social impact. This is precisely why Echoing Green, an organization that has been exclusively focused on social entrepreneurs for the past 25 years, is now cutting the spotlight and raising the house lights to expose the entire ecosystem it takes to solve the world’s biggest problems.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

I want to go back to the not-so-distant past — to eight years ago, the first time I heard someone tell me that they wanted to be a social entrepreneur.

Her name was Ripa. She was a young, energetic college freshman at NYU who knew just what she wanted. She approached me after I spoke on a panel about social enterprise and said those magic words: “I want to be a social entrepreneur.”

I was shocked. I had been in the field for nearly a decade, and had never heard social entrepreneurship referred to as an occupation, let alone a desirable one. Even Echoing Green’s Fellows resisted the title.

Ripa told me that she had read about social entrepreneurship on NYU’s business school’s website, and the unique combination of business and social change moved her. Something clicked. She said to herself, This is why I am studying business! This is what I am supposed to do with my life!

I thought Ripa was an anomaly and I took her under my wing. We formed a close relationship. When the NYU Reynolds Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship was launched in 2006, I helped her prepare her application and she became a member of the fellowship’s inaugural class. It was a transformative experience for her.

And yet, Ripa isn’t a social entrepreneur. At least, not by Echoing Green’s definition. She hasn’t launched a ground-breaking new social business, nonprofit or hybrid. Instead, she is thinking like a social entrepreneur and applying that lens to everything she does, turning that which moves her most deeply into opportunities to serve others. She is organizing the San Francisco leg of theEkatva tour, a dance drama about Gandhi and King’s non-violence ideals that features sixteen children from the slums of India. She is also studying Ayurvedic medicine and yoga, exploring the possibility of launching a program that uses those principles to help children trapped in the juvenile justice system.

Watching Ripa’s life unfold, I, too, felt something click. I realized that most members of this generation will not be social entrepreneurs, and they shouldn’t be. But if we can channel their altruistic energy and give them the tools, methodologies, and frameworks from the most successful social entrepreneurs, they will be changemakers, champions, and supporters of the work. They will make meaningful contributions to the world not by founding organizations but by bringing their best selves — their heart and head — to their work. And they will do this in all sectors, not just in nonprofit organizations but also in government agencies, family businesses, and major corporations.

What may happen in two or three generations is even brighter. When these employees become employers, they will naturally strengthen the social change axis in the majority of our institutions so community impact is imbedded into their missions.

This may sound idealistic but we are already on the way. According to Net Impact’s recent Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, the Millennial generation wants, and expects, to do good and do well in their paid work. In fact, a majority of students (65 percent) expect to make a difference in the world through their work, and 53 percent would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for an organization whose values matched their own.

However, in my experience, too few of these students know the kind of difference they want to make, and how to make it. And that is the real opportunity.

In order to harness this generation’s desire to create change, we must move away from the antiquated concept of vocation, which emphasizes what’s in it for the individual: whether it will sustain their interest or bring them fame or fortune.

Instead, we need to help young people start their professional lives by asking questions. What issues, ideas, people, and projects move them deeply? What problems are theirs to own? How can they combine their heads and hearts to address those problems? What is their unique genius and how can it be of use to the world beyond themselves?

They needn’t be founders of new organizations to have an impact on the world. But they should be founders of their careers.

-

Lara Galinsky is the senior vice president of Echoing Green, a global nonprofit that provides seed funding and technical assistance to emerging social entrepreneurs with ideas for social change. She is the co-author of Work on Purpose (2011) and Be Bold: Create a Career with Impact (2007).

This blog originally appeared on Harvard Business Review.

 

44 Responses

  1. Steven Synyshyn says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head here. It might just be a characteristic of “growing up” being over-weighted in passion and under-weighted in a good analysis of how and for what purpose that passion will fuel. I know I have and continue to feel that way. How am I actually (emphasis is supposed to be there) going to make the world a better place? It’s a critical question I put to people even younger than I am whenever the discussion turns to this. Another bad one “international development” is not really a career path or a topic of study or area of practice. Get more specific.

    One thing I do wonder about is the obsession with fame NA culture has made its focus (fact: “fame” and “instant fame” are now the major values portrayed in most TV and popular media replacing “family values” and “community” which occupied that space a few decades ago). Will young people actually be able to, on their own, move past the focus on fame to doing quality work and the impact that has, regardless of press coverage? In time, I think so. However when coupled with the warnings of a “lost generation” due to the economic crises and other concerns, it will be difficult to young people to overcome such stress without help.

    Lara, keep on doing what you’re doing! More stories and case studies about how people moved from passion to purpose, how they overcame “having no fame” feelings to realize the work they’re still doing is important and how self-fulfillment is so much more, well, fulfilling than fame and money are what we need. Thanks in advance for everything you can do to bolster the movement, for social entrepreneurs as well as for the rest of us!

  2. [...] Opinion: Why not Everyone Should be A Social Entrepreneur [Dowser] 0 Comments [...]

  3. Emily Davis says:

    I LOVE this opinion piece!!! I think the same could be said for the nonprofit sector, of which there is much overlap. I’m consistently telling young people not to start nonprofits. They want to make an impact, are innovative, but can’t find a place in the current nonprofit ecosystem to lead and explore that impact. I think others explore social entrepreneurship, but might really looking for a business or a program within another organization. The truth is, most of us don’t know what we don’t know. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. I have consulted around the world on setting up NGOs, managed a large community service program at a major university and today direct a community development NGO in northern Thailand. Many of your points resonate with my experience, although you are more politic than I might be. Two quick notes, the first about everyone’s desire to be the chief (the social entrepreneur). As anyone who has managed volunteers knows, when most people arrive on site, they are disappointed to discover that most of helping people is boring – bookkeeping, copying, memo writing, and meetings. Too many “social entrepreneurs” will spoil the organization. Second, even if there are many programs of study now available to teach social entrepreneurship, real entrepreneurship isn’t taught; it’s done. These courses can teach skills relevant to running small organizations, but they cannot teach the entrepreneur’s essential characteristics – the capacity to identify a need for which there is real demand and to create a truly innovative product or process for delivering it, and the capacity to commit, heart and soul, without looking back or down. Absent these, the new “social entrepreneurs” create the equivalent of the tens of thousands of small businesses that spring up – and die – every year in already saturated markets. Yes, some local reading programs, kids programs, whatever, will last, just as some bagel stands and novelty shops survive, because there is no local competition. But they will also go nowhere. And while they will create small amounts of social value, they will not create social wealth. In fact, they will dissipate it by absorbing limited social wealth resources although they may not provide the best programs in efficiency in program delivery or quality of outcomes.

    This distinction between social value and social wealth brings me to why I am uncomfortable with your generous definition of “social entrepreneurship” or at least willingness to accept the increasingly common use of social entrepreneurship to refer to most efforts to innovate in the nonprofit sector. It seems to me that arguably social value can be created even through traditional charitable donations, which most certainly do not involve social entrepreneurship. The mere creation of social value is therefore not enough to quality an effort as “social entrepreneurship.” Perhaps an argument can be made for the application of business practices to the operation of an organization that creates social value, but it seems to me that this mistakes organizational techniques for entrepreneurship. No, I think that if we are going to use the term “social entrepreneurship,” we must understand an activity that combines the creation of both social value (the human good that is to be delivered) and social wealth (the means by which it is delivered). Thus, however cool they are in concept, programs that depend on taxpayer money (reallocated from other uses by the political process) or on charity (funds reallocated by tapping goodwill, guilt or the tax code) do not qualify as “entrepreneurial.” Entrepreneurs create something where nothing existed before. Business entrepreneurs create that something for themselves and the venture capitalists who funded them; social entrepreneurs create that something for the community they serve.

    What makes social entrepreneurship so important – and so fundamentally different from traditional models of social value creation – is that it creates the possibility of self-sustaining social value creation. It does not leave communities forever beholden to the continued indulgence of others with no particular interest in the community. Social entrepreneurs are therefore real change agents in their communities, because they are creating community resources. But to return to the beginning of my comments, such entrepreneurs are a very rare breed. To look at the garbage of a slum and see in it a community business able not only to clean the streets, but to employ large numbers of people and pay dividends to slum-dweller shareholders, and then to deliver that business – few people are born with this ability and they do not teach it in any entrepreneurship program.

  5. [...] everyone starts a social enterprise who’s left to do the work? That’s the question Lara Galinsky of Echoing Green asks when students tell her they want to be a social entrepreneur. She says not [...]

  6. Diedra says:

    I think Lara Galinsky makes some good points and I agree with the idea of an ecosystem approach. One of the red flags in the piece for me, as someone who has been doing social impact work before the term became trendy, is the idea of highlighting, without much analysis, that folks would be willing to take a 15% pay cut if they knew their work was having a positive impact. I wonder who was polled and if these folks are currently working in social impact positions where currently most are severely underpaid and over worked.

    I am a 30-something, social entrepreneur and in B-School because – 1) I’m tired of working for well intentioned but often clueless rich people and 2) I believe social impact workers should make a hell of a lot more money when lawyers, accountants, sport stars, CEOs etc make a hell of a lot of money.

    In the real world of positive social impact, where it is defined deeper than just a business recycling, using energy saving bulbs or donating 10% of sales every 17th wednesday of the year to some poor organization. Social impact work, yes meaningful and fulfilling – is HARD work and we should be paid accordingly or costs of living must be dramatically decreased (and we still should push a serious increase in pay.)

    Yes, it feeds my soul to do the work I do but last time I checked the reality is, my tummy needs to be fed as well, and my body needs a clean, well lighted place to rest.

    And just because my beneficiaries are urban working class doesn’t mean I and they shouldn’t be able to afford to buy and have access to organic, healthy foods and clean, safe neighborhoods. We often are the ecosystem Galinsky mentions and yet are underpaid and undervalued. Change that and perhaps less folks would be shooting to be the CEO or ED. Just a thought.

    • Tina Crouse says:

      Deirdra hit the nail on the head. We (non-profit sector) have made ourselves poor while supposedly helping other people out of poverty. The nonsense of muck media ‘exposing’ that we are all ‘rich cats’ who work in the sector is ridiculous. When we improve, so does everyone else. Lara’s article highlights the future possibilities well: Not everyone will become the boss but everyone can contribute.

  7. nocermathew says:

    Dear Friends,
    Social Enterpreneurs are not a product. This innovative idea is not getting from school or college.The social Enterpreneurs are transforming from the need. The power to understand and divert the need in the specific way will change to succes and to an innovative idea and to become the prime base for the change.
    we can see innovators with no basic Education or any type of training or without any support from the groups they can make succes.
    The social enterpreneurs have the basic quality to accept and to know what is happening in the community and the basic remedy for the cause. The basic power to convince the people those who are affected with the problem.
    The social enterpreneur is doing the job of devoloping the people as it as thier own problem and get a solution from the community support.
    An organiser an advocacy powere man understandable,sharing, supporting ,giving and protecting mind can become a socialenterpreneur with the quality of hard working.
    with regards

    nocermathew(Ashokafellow)

  8. I believe you are true, if people will continue with this habit of establishing non profit organization by claiming that they are doing social enterprise then then social entrepreneurship will lose its meaning and we shall be going back to charity, this is what i predict.

  9. Steve says:

    @Erick, and then we will collectively create a different or new term and so on and so on. I think we should worry less about the label and more about whether it’s achieving the desired goal or not….

    • Steve, I disagree. This is not just a matter of words, although it may seem that way. It may be true that we are all trying to achieve a desired goal, but this does not mean that all efforts to achieve that goal are equally good. In a world of scarce resources, the proliferation of small, undercapitalized, and often poorly conceived projects detracts from our collective capacity to achieve the very desired good that we all want to accomplish. As Lara and others in this thread have pointed out, not everyone has to be a boss. There is plenty of work to go around. Why don’t we concentrate on building sustainable organizations able to deliver high quality services instead of all trying to be all that we can be – as the US Army puts it, be an Army of One – and create a huge number of marginal organizations?

  10. [...] time for the public to check out some of the great ideas and decide which is the best.   2. Opinion: Why Not Everyone Should be A Social Entrepreneur - Why it is dangerous to think one person’s hard work and good ideas is all it takes to [...]

  11. Evan says:

    A lot of this discussion made me think of this other piece on dowser: http://dowser.org/are-too-many-social-enterprises-adding-to-our-problems/

    Better to have fewer, but structured and in-sync organizations? Or many solutions, each chugging along at their own “theory of change”?

    I’m more convinced by the former.

    • Steve says:

      And I’m going to have to disagree with you Evan. Having fewer, structured and in-sync organizations may sound good in theory, however I think experience and history show us concentrated consensus around how to do things can actually result in poorer outcomes overall. May not be the best comparison, but the Washington consensus could be one or one or two dominant large scale NGOs dominating in a local municipality. In other words, the latter alternative you suggest actually sounds preferable to me because it allows for different ideas a d ways of doing things to be tried out. Of course there are some caveates such as do no harm and universal access to basic human rights (safety, food and water, education, etc)…. But nonetheless it’s called social “entrepreneurship” for a reason right?

      @Michael, thanks for the comment and well said point of disagreement. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition like, if I read you correctly, you make it out to be. Sure, some will want to “go for it” and make funding more competitive for “proven” ideas, might be mediocre, etc. However, this won’t be the case all the time. In fact, I think we ought to applaud those for thinking about taking the lead – don’t we decry the lack of leadership these days? Let’s face it, these sustainable organizations you mention are prone to risk aversion as they grow and less open to change/new ideas. I just watched a TED talks recently by a British doctor on openness in organizations – she stated when surveyed anonymously, roughly 80% of senior level staff admitted that they thought something was wrong or could be improved with their organization’s product or service but were fearful of speaking out and ended up saying nothing. She didn’t discern between profit and non profit, however these were “larger organizations” collectively. And I believe large and sustainable can be used interchangeably in many cases. So what I’m trying to say here is that there are externalities associated with people wanting t “be all they can be” they speeds up the creative destruction of established ideas and ways of doing things to spur more innovation… And I argue this may be easier done by supporting and mentoring (something it sounds like you’d be great for!) these young people or would be social entrepreneurs who feel strongly enough about doing thingsw better or have a model they’re passionate about to improve it as they go. Not wanting to digress too far, looking at new forms of social media and Internet-based collaboration I wonder if when you say “sustainable organizations” you perhaps have an established view of what it means to support one another/build something together – a lot of great things, say open source platform Drupal as an example – is done in some type of commons or across organizatins as opposed to within them…

      just a few more thoughts…. Hope I actually responded to your point instead of just rambling… :S

      • Evan says:

        @Steve: I think history would agree with your assessment. But I wouldn’t conflate “structured and in-sync” with “concentrated consensus around how to do things.” Based on the other Dowser article I posted, the author argues that “Your goal as an organization should be to one day not exist—to solve your problem and then have no more work to do” and “that too many organizations impede progress toward solving the world’s most pressing problems. He argues that people need to use existing models to target specific needs or issues, through flexible structures rather than permanent ones.”

        I think that points to the sort of non-sustainable ever-evolving-and-innovating type of organization you seem to speak to, and I agree with the necessity for flexibility, adaptation, and innovation. I also agree with the notion that experimenting, and not being afraid of failure in testing out those new innovations is important. But I’d prefer “more wood behind fewer arrows” as Larry Page would put it, as opposed to a scattered smattering of entrepreneurial endeavors with little impact overall. In this sense, I also agree with Ms. Galinsky that not everyone can be the entrepreneur – and shouldn’t. But of course as those “social entrepreneurs” do see new opportunities to move resources from low social yield to high social yield (as I learned the term) then yes, they should act – and bring along those able to help them enact. Perhaps not by creating a brand new org, but by reconnecting the existing orgs to better perform.

      • Steve and Evan, It’s interesting that we are now engaged in the very debate that keeps me up at night. In spite of my aversion to the present phenomenon of everyone rushing out to start their own tiny NGOs, I have done the same – and why? Because large organizations almost always fail to deliver. The price of scale and project replication is all too often the loss of contact with communities. Where I work in northern Thailand, the countryside is littered with failed projects, projects claimed as successes by the “biggest and best” NGOs in the development world. Why are they claimed as successes? Because they were completed on time and on budget by staff living in Chiang Mai who visited three of four times during the course of the project. But as soon as their support and limited attention ceased, the projects died because they lacked any real local incentive structure. Really small organizations that live where they work and lack the resources to intervene in ways that change local relative prices have a chance of making long-term changes. Large, external, capital-rich and roots-poor organizations inevitably change local relative prices; when they leave, relative prices revert to their normal levels and projects dependent upon the project introduced distortions fail. That is, without the project induced price distortions, there is no real incentive to continue the business activity. So here, then, is an entirely different kind of argument for small. Only social entrepreneurs will make and manage such organizations, but no less important, only such organizations are likely to generate meaningful change in many critical areas.

  12. Jerry says:

    All this is well and good and the caution you note is a legitimate concern, BUT how about teaching “How to fish rather than to go begging for a grant. No other nation in history has provided such abundance for its people as has America. In the face of all obstacles, even the poor in America had more than the middle class of 2/3 to 3/4 of the world’s nations. THE WELFARE STATE has always led to mass poverty and misery and then the destruction of a people.

    Social entrepreneurship is a great idea IF it also teaches people to be self reliant and to produce more than they consume (leading to abundance), along with thrift and frugality. Wealth is created daily, NOT accumulated at the expense of another. What happens to your accumulated wealth, manifested in material goods, over time? It ends up in a land fill and needs to be recreated – daily. And remember, the eight hour work day is modern phenomena – a little over a hundred years old. If you want to change the world, teach it to be productive, to produce more than it can consume. I love the verse in Eccl 11:6
    “In the morning sow your seed,
    And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
    For you do not know which will prosper,
    Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good.”

    What does that tell you about the 8 hour work day0?

    Micro loans, like those initiated by the Grameen Bank, are a great way for people with imagination to start a successful enterprise. Any one can do it – with a teacher.
    BTW: Free Enterprise means you are free to enter the work for the promise of the prize.

    • Ah, but Jerry, this is precisely the point. Large scale projects that offer silver bullets – they need to learn how to sew and then the will sew their way out of poverty – or – if we give them an oil press, they can sell avocado oil – fail precisely because they fail to account for the complex demands of success in business. It is not enough to teach a woman with a 4th grade education in an isolate village how to sew hats (this is a real case). It is essential to teach the very concept of “demand” as is “something a consumer will spend money for instead of spending money on something else”. Beyond this are the basic notions of what contributes to a successful product, understood as one that provides defensible comparative advantage. What is involved in developing a supply chain. And here, for a woman who has never left her valley, the issues of marketing can be overwhelming. In the case I am thinking of, the cooperative still has most of the 4,000 hats the microenterprise project taught them to make.

      You general point is entirely correct: charity simply doesn’t work; indeed, it often makes the situation worse in the long run. BUT teaching fishing is hard, really hard, and it takes a lot of time and effort, far more time and effort than most organizations are willing to devote to the project. The result is lots of fishing lesson programs that are meant to be widely replicable in little time and with little input from the implementing agency. However good their intent, they fail because they fail to take into account the real requirements of teaching the real people they are dealing with to fish.

      Note: Here I am not referring to pico-business and pico-loans of the pair of chickens variety. These work great because they function entirely within the local economy. But for real growth to take place, communities need to generate wealth and social wealth that cannot be generated entirely through local enterprise. As Adam Smith argued long ago, the expansion of the market is essential to specialization and therefore to wealth accumulation. Villages that cannot connect to and compete successfully in outside markets get nowhere. But teaching village enterprises to fish at this level is an entirely different matter than lending a woman the money to buy two chickens.

  13. Steven Synyshyn says:

    Evan: To your reply on August the 16th, I believe we are circling around something similar – a healthy mix – although I admit I believe I lean more towards a system more devolved than the one I hear you describe. In short, advocating for more wood behind fewer arrows to me smacks of a move (whether intended or not) towards a central planning scenario which, in turn, reflects a desire for more control. I’ve already explained why I think organizational “blinders” can lead to much poorer outcomes as a result of plans imposed versus ideas bubbling up. And I’m willing to trade a bit of overall impact (which is notoriously difficult and expensive to prove – just ask Michael Clemens over at Center for Global Development) if it means added insurance against too many market distortions or “getting in the way” as the result of interventions from “centers of excellence in social entrepreneurship”… So while I’m definitely not completely on the other end that everyone should be a SE (i.e., the fact that it creates too much competition for funds resulting in inability of those doing genuine work to earn reasonable profits, a living wage, etc), I do stand by my opinion that we benefit from more entrepreneurship, not less and that perhaps Lara should not be so quick to write off all these wanna-be’s who swamp her inbox.

    Michael Shafer: very well said about your 4000 hats. I have heard of (from the person directly responsible/overseeing the project) a very similar situation in India where a cooperative and women’s group was taught sewing and pattern design only to have the entire stock unsold. In short, quality control is critical. And that’s where the training/fishing also comes in and, in our cases of hats and other sewing, honest talent. Just because they are poor, rurally-based women doesn’t mean they can become poor, rurally-based artisans overnight. Experiencing something similar myself also in India, I can say it really takes an entrepreneur (too bad we can’t have more!) to take it and run with it – do the product development, selling and marketing. Private sector development projects and training can’t “make” someone successful in business – and I’m skeptical of experts who purport to be able to do that (without acknowledging the need for the entrepreneurial spark among clients in the first place). And i completely agree with you that the goal should be to extend outside the local market to draw on demand and ability to pay thereby bringing wealth back into poor areas. This is where I’d love to see more professionally-trained marketing and promotions companies partner with development groups and NGOs (i.e., to act as intermediaries and trust clearinghouses) to assist grassroots businesses achieve scale. In fact, I’d argue many medium to large sized firms would love to do this versus listening to their bean-counter and donating money to horribly efficient public bodies in order to enjoy the tax write off…. But I’m rambling again!

    • Oh, go on and ramble. I actually think that you have hit on a very important point. I am speaking at an Asia CSR conference in a month or so and want to make exactly this point to the assembled businessmen. So much CSR money is wasted because businesses forget everything they know about business when they think about CSR. Banks unthinkingly run can drives; logistics companies sponsor well and clean water projects; large pharmaceuticals companies send their corporate volunteers to soup kitchens. Such a waste. If only they would do what they do best. What, NGOs and poor communities don’t need banking services? What, NGOs and microenterprise endeavors don’t need logistics and distribution expertise and services? Does it ever occur to a shipping firm what a difference it would make to 100 small microenterprise organizations in northern Thailand to have a drop box arrangement to use empty pallet space and US distribution on the same basis instead of having to pay for airmail shipping? And well beyond the CSR potential, the broad base of the pyramid offers innumerable opportunities for low cost partnerships in product development and distribution that innovative medium sized companies could easily exploit, being more nimble and having lower costs than the big boys out at the fringe. Here, it seems to me, is where we could really see the developmental impact of business. Pity that business only thinks of charity (greenwashing) and not self-interest, which might drive innovations that are fully and meaningfully integrated into the strategic and business interests of the firm. Have you looked at the work that Pepsi is doing in low water agriculture? This is the most self-interested, strategic CSR I can imagine – they are working to guarantee their feed stocks for the future – and because it is self-interested and strategic, the work that they are doing is organized, scientific, sustained, environmentally amazing AND is fundamentally changing the lives of communities by making them more productive and guaranteeing their futures in a world of shrinking water supplies. This isn’t magic; this is thoughtful innovation. Any company can do; most just don’t. Pity.

      • Steven Synyshyn says:

        I definitely know what you mean. I feel that could create a lot more good for everyone instead of building parks (my personal favourite). Notwithstanding all the other reasons why more companies don’t wake up to this, I think it boils down to the inherent problem with charity: it’s about us, not the people we’re trying to help. All the examples you used are probably written off as “employee engagement” activities and ascribed to based on how they’ll improve the company’s culture or morale. Funny though that it may offer a temporary boost, but it doesn’t solve underlying cultural problems (that the managers are jerks or pay is low/people are stressed about their finances) or really offer a hand-up to the people in the communities in which they carry out he activity (hiring and paying them while offering additiona training would likely do the most good if they have their hearts set on building that damn park).

        Your post also prodded an experience I had with one company on this same topic. Specifically, where does the company spend its corporate giving dollars and, more importantly, how to decide where to spend it. It was interesting though, a situation where the company was still small (in fact, cash flow negative!) yet founded on the idea of providing more fairness and better value in a traditionally oligarchical industry – so their hearts were in the right place. Long story short, while I wanted to recommend they do things like you talk about – use what they do best to help small businesses and organizations in the communities they work in – I instead recommended a much more tailor-made “doing good well based on the stage you’re at” plan and strategy, beginning with more inward looking initiatives (i.e., employee engagement) and building towards a culture where ideas of creating shared value (the example of Pepsico is essentially how I understand the term) flourish, are better understood and can actually be implemented (people “get it” and buy-in).

        To me, the situation I faced uncovered two big insights I still hold. First, trying to sell companies on the “enlightened self-interest” rationale for charity is tough, really tough, especially for the majority of companies that see short-term and “what’s in it for me?” self-interest as the ordre du jour. People have to be more realistic about the fact that they’re asking companies to invest in something unconcretely longer-term that they likely won’t completely capture the rewards from. It’s just a way of looking at things more than having hard numbers, ROI, etc to back it up with. That’s why I argue for speaking to companies where they’re at and looking to incremental change. In most cases it’s just too far a leap, especially with the global economic malaise hanging over everyone’s heads.

        Second, and this goes back to Lara’s article, I think more intrapreneurs is the better of the two ways to go. IMHO, better to be a awesome IT woman or marketing guy who wants to help the company create more social value than a die-hard “social entrepreneur” who doesn’t have a lick of street cred in the organization they’re trying to change and who no one really understands what it is they do… The custom-made, incremental change plan I advocate above reflects this – look for more everyday opportunities to do good better and be a better person. Before you catch me with “Ah Steve – so you do completely agree with Lara’s article!” I’ll add that starting your own business, or the act of putting into practice/testing better ways of doing things, is definitely worthwhile and should be encouraged. You can spend your lifetime trying to change cultures with little or uncertain results to show for it. If you’re really that ambitious and impatient, then starting your own thing is probably the better way to go for you regardless of the the impact it has on the overall system (though it pains my heart to say so).

        Steve out.

  14. Michael Shafer says:

    Oh, your closing comments hurt. I spent 25 years at a major university trying that “incremental change from within” thing – and finally quit in anger and frustration. Your large, American, public research university is simply incapable of getting the twin notions that (1) the public does not owe it an endless stream of cash for failing to attend to the learning needs of its kids and (2) there is no logical reason why entrepreneurship and quality higher education cannot co-exist as well at a public university as they do, for example, at Stanford. Administrators and professors simply cannot understand that they have an audience – the parents of their students – who are represented in the state legislature and that this audience is not impressed by research alone. If you consistently short change undergraduate education in the pursuit of prestige in a race against your AAU peers, eventually you get punished. But ironically, when these same administrators and professors do get punished, they absolutely refuse to undertake entrepreneurial efforts to reduce their dependence on state money and to increase their financial independence to pursue their own research agendas. Instead they piss and moan and explain that they cannot do anything without more (state) money (except grow the football program, the only business in which they are interested, although for almost every public university in the country it is a huge money loser). The incredible irony of many of my years in the saddle is that I was running higher ed reform programs in Eastern and Central Europe and the ex-Soviet Union. There, where state funds had all but dried up, administrators and faculty got it. Curriculum development in experiential learning became small business development; discussions about administrative reform became questions about how to start a corporate relations office and reform national IP legislation to provoke faculty innovation. Anyway, all of the details aside, when I was finally too exhausted to continue to spend three days a week in Eastern Europe and still teach a full load, and too frustrated with my own university’s complete failure to grasp that it was a huge potential (untapped potential) source of development for the state, I just quit. It was an irrational thing to do in the face of an economic meltdown and at the age of 55, but sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if it is not the “right” thing. We may now have spent enough of our retirement savings that returning to the US is off the table, but we have built a thriving organization and begun to prove out some really cool programs. (I am definitely NOT a model to be emulated and definitely NOT a teaching case for your businessmen. When I teach (and I still “teach” a lot in one way or another) I am careful to invoke a very different “modal human” when in need of an example.)

    But after all this, your main point is well taken. I actually think that you’re closer to home with the charity orientation, which is bred into us, than the necessarily short term thinking. I actually don’t think that businesses think much about CSR and, to the extent that they do, their immediate impulse is charity. What you and I need to do is to get them to think about, I mean, actually think about what they might do with their CSR programs. If they turn their minds to it, then we can engage them in discussion about how to change their own lives, life at their companies and, ultimately how they spend/invest their CSR dollars.

  15. Pankaj jain says:

    I am really impressed after seeing this site. I set the ball rollinf my introducing myself as pankaj jain working in One
    PSU of indai govt as Engineer and working with my NGO in pastime. Its wonderful that in longer path i will get advice and some sort of tchnical and other support in sustaining my NGO which is basically a NGO working in the field of environment and medical field plus looking after varous aspects of rural India particularly in and around BHEL in Bundelkhand area.
    We look forward for your kind response.
    pl be in touch.
    Pankaj jain

  16. [...] read an interesting article by yesterday ‘Why Not Everyone Should Become a Social Entrepreneur‘ (Lara Galinsky, dowser). The popularity of the social enterprise field has, in the past few [...]

  17. Jemer says:

    There is obviously a complex matrix of contributing factors that results in such an abundance of separate, and to some degree, overlapping non-profits. However I would like to explore just a few, the ones that interest me most. Most of the factors fit into the “human nature” category. Specifically I think you have to consider our competitiveness and are disposition to disagree. Obviously not all, but in my experience many of those passionate people who are engaged are also the type that are opinionated and want to have control of their passions direction. They see or say that, “I think I could do this better”, or, “they’re doing it wrong.” Secondly they want to try and make a living off of their passion rather than just be a non-paid volunteer at an organization forever.

  18. [...] recently read a dowser.org article that resonated deeply with some of the memes we’ve been exploring at ProStandOut. One of [...]

  19. Amit Jain says:

    I’m really late to the party here, but this is incredibly well-said. One thing I’d add, however, is that the best leaders in the social sector (and the public sector, and really any sector) are those who have on-the-ground experience to inform their work. As a young educator, I’ve already seen far too many well-intentioned education entrepreneurs fall by the wayside because their products were grounded in hype, not in reality.

    Overall, really insightful piece. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ivan C says:

      Amit, that’s an important observation. Could you comment on some of the projects by these educational entrepreneurs?

  20. Steve Synyshyn says:

    Hi Amit – better late than never! I think the author really did a good job of saying a lot of the things many of us are thinking; “take what’s there and make it better, instead of always focusing on doing something new”. I think many of us can agree, too, that there are fundamental challenges to doing this kind of work one will run into whatever the type of organization, in whichever sector, however new or old the initiative. I think newcomers and experienced vets alike ought to flesh those out, come to terms with them and learn to manage them better – then it matters less in which organizational context you’re in… Ha, how general were those comments!

    Look forward to reading more from the author. Maybe it’s time for a “part 2″ or revisit Lara?

    Steve

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  25. thailande says:

    I agree with you a social entrepreneur need to be well surrounded in order to impact the world in a significant way.They should be able to set up networks of influent people to help them achieving what they want. Really tough job !

  26. Matt Mahoney says:

    I feel that I come from the generation with this internal drive to incorporate “efficient business models” with “doing the right thing”. I’m 28 years old, a white male, served in the military and AmeriCorps, and just beginning my “professional career”. My motivation can be defined through multiple lenses, however, the one constant is how to define “the right thing”. There are powerful groups and/or people that provide a “need” to the community/region/state/etc., but the monetary expense is focused on more often then the social expense. But how do you measure social returns on monetary investments? How does one justify a social need is more important over another? How do we incorporate socially responsible business practices into common/best practices? These questions are my motivation.

  27. Lawyer says:

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  28. [...] Not everyone is made to be a social entrepreneur, but that’s because social entrepreneurs need the time, unique talent and skills of everyone to be successful. via Dowser [...]

  29. [...] Governments & NGOs aren’t enough to solve the world’s problems; business needs to complete the trifecta via Forbes [...]

  30. Well, it takes someone special to do something. We all cant do the same things, let those with passion and drive for certain things do what drives them and create the passion, those things would become more successful.

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