James Militzer

Beyond Competition: An interview with Grameen Foundation’s Steve Wright

From a traditional business perspective, social enterprise seems to be built upon a contradiction. How can you run a company whose ultimate goal is to foster and empower competitors rather than defeat them?

That tension was on display at last month’s BoP Summit, as participants discussed the need for social businesses to work together more as a community. I asked Steve Wright, vice president of Grameen Foundation’s Poverty Tools & Insights division, why even like-minded social enterprises continue to struggle with this.

“It’s not the nature of the beast,” he said. “The model that we’re using is the financial enterprise model. That’s a competition-driven model, and competition says that you protect and hoard your IP. But I think everybody in the space, on some level, believes that that type of behavior is not going to get us ultimately where we need to go. We need to figure out how to share more aggressively, we have to share equitably, and we have to figure out the ground rules. And we’re not there yet.”

Beyond social business, Wright spoke frankly of how multinational corporations’ involvement at the BoP impacts the poor – and how their approach to this market is changing. “Multinationals already have a deep impact on the BoP and on social enterprise in general – they just don’t know what it is,” he said “And in many cases, it’s probably negative.” But can individual companies take a more equitable approach to the BoP in the face of competition from other big businesses?

We discussed this and other topics – including how Grameen Foundation’s social performance measurement tools can help social enterprises – in the interview below.

Impact Assessment, Social Enterprise
Base of the Pyramid, interviews, poverty alleviation, social enterprise