I had an interesting conversation today with a (paid) intern about social enterprise. We chatted about a wide variety of related topics (open government, virtuous schemers, social synapses, culture change, behavioural economics, etc.) with a particular focus on the challenges of being a social entrepreneur.
One of the ideas we visited was the notion of trust and engagement. If, as Simon Sinek says, we don't buy what people do but why they do it, it stands to reason that we want clarity of intent and purpose - a mission statement, for example. But what is the mission statement of a social entrepreneur?
The straight-up goal of an ordinary entrepreneur (or any business person) is to make money - we specialize in something so as to develop a saleable skill or craft, then focus on getting paid for the implementation of our expertise.
The goal of a charity, on the other hand, is not about profit - it's to address a cause. The assumption is that the money we give to charities will go to good use because the people taking our money aren't interested in profit; they've put the mission before self.
We will give to a charity for this reason; we care about the cause and want to see it addressed, but we also trust that the people we're giving our money to are only taking out of it what they need to pay the bills and putting the rest towards the public good.
Rightly, we get mad when we learn of charities misusing our money. In a case of bad apples spoiling the barrel, an egregious case of fund mismanagement or corruption, all charities fall into suspicion - that's how seriously we view the matter.
What, then, to make of social enterprises? They want to make money like a business, but they want to do public good, like a charity. There's something that doesn't quite sit right with this model for many - we pay for things we get, but we give to others through donations.
This is probably why we're seeing a growing number of hybrid models - social enterprises that will have a for-profit wing, which touches on the issue that drives them, but also a fully-mandated social good wing that doesn't or only lightly plays in the profit space.
Is this a church and state thing? Do we not want people to make money doing social good, because making money is about self-interest? Monks and nuns are given donations for the public good they do, but they most often also take on vows of poverty, living every aspect of their lives for the betterment of others.
We don't all want to be monks, but that doesn't mean we aren't interested in dedicating our lives to the greater good. How might this be accomplished?
The recent #OGT14 tour was, essentially, a public good (it facilitated civic engagement) but it was framed as art. Appropriately, Richard Pietro, the tour's creator, had no sponsor, but a patron in the form of Make Web Not War. Richard didn't live the life of luxury on his tour, but he wasn't a monk either.
There are no fixed rules in this space - it's still nascent. That means there's lots of room to evolve, try new things and of course, adapt.
It may be that we are hard-wired not mix public good with public profit, but then we were never intended to fly, either.
What do you believe?
"Intelligence must follow faith, never precede it, and never destroy it."
- Thomas Kempis