A few years ago, I stumbled across social entrepreneurship and the B Corps movement. Before that, I had been working in the nonprofit world, where I experienced its highs and lows, strong and weak points.
Despite the small victories and successes along the way, I constantly asked myself questions like...
Turns out, a lot of people were way ahead of me. The B Corps movement, a push to transform business into a force for good in the world that originated in the US, had already started spread around the world –– including Latin America, where I was headed for my next job in the summer of 2015.
The landscape at the startup B Corporation where I worked looked very different than my previous workplaces. Fast-paced design thinking workshops. Cross-organizational collaboration. Pop-up stands at a few days’ notice. Lean startup principles. Growth mindset and failing forward.
Everyone’s participation and energy for the mission felt so palpable. Something clicked.
Happy and empowered people all around. This was what I was looking for.
While working at that B Corporation and learning about others, I became convinced that social enterprise is the future of business, and more importantly, is the future of solving problems in the world.
To me, it is a win for all involved, and ultimately a better system than what we’ve been working with up until now.
However, social enterprise is not without its detractors or concerns, and rightly so. I want to take a look at a few of the arguments against social entrepreneurship, and think about ways we can address them as social entrepreneurs, or socents, of the future.
1. Social entrepreneurship capitalizes on human suffering.
Yikes, this is a big one. And it’s understandable as to why some might see it that way, as on the surface it seems like people are profiting from others’ problems.
But I look at it like this: you have a problem that you want to solve in the world (take your pick –– there are plenty). What are your options? You could...
Most social entrepreneurs are not capitalizing upon the problem, per se, but instead capitalizing on the market surrounding it, so as to funnel resources towards the solution.
Every social enterprise’s model and mission looks different, but I would argue that most social entrepreneurs would be more than happy to eliminate the problem at hand, even if it forced them to pivot their business to another issue.
But I highly doubt we’ll be running out of social problems anytime soon.
2. You can’t fight the harmful results of capitalism with more capitalism.
Another solid point, a la fighting fire with fire.
However, I don’t think it addresses the major differences between traditional capitalistic models and those of many social entrepreneurs. While evil businesspeople of past and present may have wanted, and do want, to squeeze every dollar and cent from their business using any means necessary, social entrepreneurs –– especially B Corps –– must answer to a triple bottom line.
It’s not just the money that matters to them in the end. The purpose, people, and environmental impact involved in the effort play a key role in the success of the business.
Built into their business plans are commitments to achieving their social mission, investing in their workforce, and making a positive (or minimal) effect on the environment.
They also value collaboration over competition, a stark difference from traditional models, and believe in abundance over scarcity. Resource sharing and partnerships among social enterprises is far more common than in the traditional private sector.
Therefore, they are not actually playing by the old capitalism rulebooks, but forming a whole different framework for how businesses can run.
3. Social entrepreneurship does not address the larger infrastructures that cause these problems in the first place.
Similar to the point I made above, I think that many social entrepreneurs would love for their company to eventually not need to exist.
A stark contrast to the traditional viewpoint of business owners, true social entrepreneurs recognize that they are in the game to solve something, not sustain the problem forever.
For that to happen though, socents would need to tackle the root of the problem, not just the pesky weeds that pop up later.
So, it naturally follows that if social entrepreneurs are only addressing the effect of a problem and not the cause, are they just futile?
It’s not so simple.
Social entrepreneurs can and should be working on the issue at both ends of the spectrum, serving people who need help now with quick turnaround measures, while simultaneously working to dismantle infrastructures, disrupt norms, and effect large-scale policy changes.
Collaboration with nonprofits and other entities working towards this goal could be just one way of achieving that aim.
What are some more?
I love social entrepreneurship, and earnestly believe in its potential to change the world, because I’ve seen firsthand how much it can.
At the same time, I recognize its flaws, dangers, and shortcomings. As any young concept, it needs more time to test, evolve, and scale, so that we can better understand its larger effects, and try to optimize the positive ones while lessening the negative ones.
There is room at the social justice table for people and organizations of many stripes: activists, teachers, journalists, nonprofits, protestors, students, charities, and the like.
Despite its flaws, for the sake of the future, social enterprises and the ones who lead them must be there, too.
You might also like: What are B Corps? A Pocket Guide
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.