Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Social Enterprise

Alastair McIntosh, the Scottish environmentalist, community advocate and author of Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power, said in a brief interview today that he thinks the social enterprise movement faces a variety of sustainability challenges. I caught up with McIntosh during a break in the Corporate Register Reporting Awards conference today in London. Here's an edited transcript of our short talk:

What's your take on the social enterprise movement?
I'm involved in a grassroots community organization in Glasgow where we are working in a very broken community with people with issues like addictions, homelessless, criminal records and so forth -- as well as with just ordinary members of the community. We look to social enterprise as a way forward but at the same time, it is actually very difficult because a social enterprise can work well when you have entrepreneurial, fairly well-sorted, business-oriented people behind it.

Quite often, though, what happens is that people who set up social enterprises move on, to set up their own businesses because they get to the point where they want to make money for themselves rather than put the fruits of their actions towards the common good. Another challenge is that when you are working with mostly broken people in society, they are often the intergenerational victims of poverty in its various forms and it's actually very difficult for them to get a foot on the ladder and to compete
in the mainstream business world. So I think that social enterprise is a part of the solution -- although in practice, getting [social enterprises] going in hard-pressed areas and keeping them there can be more difficult than is sometimes made out.

What is needed to help them along?
I think that we need to shift our understanding of what a product is from a simple economic transaction in which we look for the cheapest price for the best available to an understanding that this is about the right relationships. And so the satisfaction we seek in what it is we consume needs to be partly built into the relationships that have helped to make them. Then, people might be willing to accept something that may not be as competitively priced -- but is much better socially.

So how do we get there?
Government is not the answer. It really has to come from our own hearts; it has got to be a transformation within us, whereby we seek to have a sense of our own value based on how we're connected to other values in the community around us -- and how we contribute to those values.

Will technology and social media help build stronger communities?
Technology and networking will be part of it. I would say a fundamental word is dignity. Is dignity built into our economic transactions? Is respect - the ability to take another look? Respect is our ability to look deeper than just to the surface of what's in the wrappers of the products we consume. Dignity needs to be built into [what we make and do via] the right relationship with the Earth and the right relationship with one another.

Do you agree? Let us hear from you.

--Marcia Stepanek

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Anonymous Ryan Schoop said...

I think that Alastair's comments are very insightful. I want to expand on "how we get there" and the effect of social media and technology. As a 26 year old student of global entrepreneurship, I can see the weight of social entrepreneurship growing. Of the Americans that I study with, I would contend that more than half see themselves in social or green entrepreneurship at some point. The focus is shifting, and the younger generations are more socially minded than any generation to date, but we have to keep this momentum going.

In my opinion, the key moving forward will surround global education. As an American, I have been born into a country that affords me more opportunities than the other 95% of the world; in order for our American youth to truly embrace their fortune, we need to encourage them to live and study (and beyond Western Europe). Studying in China and traveling around Asia opened my eyes. Every day during my vacation to the Philippines on my way to the perfect white beaches I rode past more than 100 children shirtless and shoeless, living in poverty; I am certain it is exponentially worse elsewhere. For our youth to continue to have the desire to change and truly become world citizens, we need to expose them to the world beyond the friendly confines of America. If they have not experienced hardship themselves, they need to at least see it or it will be hard for them to fully believe it.

I firmly believe that social media and technology are another way to help educate the youth and push forward social enterprise. I point to the Chase Community Giving program through Facebook that had fans that included almost 1% of America - that is a lot of people. Social media is the youth's playground - for increased sustainability and growth of social enterprises, social media and technology will be vital.

April 30, 2010 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

Great commentary, Ryan. Couldn't agree more. So how do we get social media tools in the hands of the shirtless and shoeless?

April 30, 2010 at 2:04 PM  
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July 13, 2010 at 5:54 AM  

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