"Capitalism is under siege. Diminshed trust in business is causing political leaders to set policies that sap economic growth ... Business is caught in a vicious circle ... the purpose of a corporation must be redefined around creating shared value." So begins a recent article in the Havard Business Review that, in my view, is just as revolutionary as an 1848 treatise written by two other men that began: "A specter is haunting Europe ..."
You might have heard the term social entrepreneur lately. With all the attention the concept is getting, it's quickly getting buzzword status. So I thought I would write up a short primer on the subject. David Bornstein and Susan Davis, in their 2010 book Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, defines social entrepreneurship as "a process by which citizens build or transform institutions to advance solutions to social problems, such as poverty, illness, illiteracy, environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and corruption, in order to make life better for many." Dr. Greg Dees, considered the father of social entrepreneurship education, says, "social entrepreneurs create public value, pursue new opportunities, innovate and adapt, act boldly, leverage resources they don't control, and exhibit a strong sense of accountability."
I like the way Dr. Kathryn Blanchard, author of The Protestant Ethic or the Spirit of Capitalism: Christians, Freedom, and Free Markets (2010) puts it: "Social entrepreneurship is a world where financial capital can merge with spiritual capital to generate social capital. It's sympathetic self-interest rather than competitive self-interest."
I believe this concept, which aims to bring the for profit business world and the non-profit NGO world together to tackle some of the world's toughest challenges, is one of the most revolutionary concepts of our time. The quote at the beginning of this post from the Harvard Business Review is from the article entitled: "Creating Shared Value: How to Reinvent Capitalism and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth,"(pdf) which places the concept in the wider discussion of how capitalism is shifting, or should be shifting, to better address markets in a globalized, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats kind of world. The idea is surprisingly simple: if businesses can transform and become as ethical as the best of our NGOs, then think of the potential for powerful global transformation. If it sounds too good to be true, read the article.
The wikipedia entry for Social Entrepreneurship.
Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship
As the Ashoka definition illustrates, social entrepreneurship is nothing new in history. Just so we don't get too carried away with the newness and novelty of this, Bornstein & Davis point out early in their book that "Social entrepreneurs have always existed. But in the past they were called visionaries, humanitarians, philanthropists, reformers, saints, or simply great leaders. Attention was paid to their courage, compassion, and vision but rarely to the practical aspects of their accomplishments." That is, until now.
Coming soon: Social Entrepreneurship and the World of Christian Missions