A New Space Race – To Grow Social Enterprise
Friday, July 31, 2015
Returning to San Francisco from Milan where I had met some of the 700 international delegates attending the Social Enterprise World Forum, I found my mind wandering to the ’space race’ of the 1950s and 1960s. Space became a key battlefield of the Cold War. It was a proving ground for which political-economic system — the U.S. or the Soviet Union — had the right to claim its prowess.
In Milan, I heard that the European Union is investing more than $500 million to grow the impact and scale of social enterprise. Korea and Scotland were just a few of the other countries with national representation at the conference overseeing private-public partnerships to drive social enterprise growth. Yes, even Russia had some initiatives to present.
While the U.S. was represented, and has a good record: some outstanding social enterprises, a few decades of investment by Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI’s) — primarily in affordable housing — and an impact investing sector that is starting to grow, we would be hard-pressed to identify investments of $20 million in social enterprise growth, let alone a $500 million initiative.
While the definition of social enterprises in Europe is somewhat more expansive than in the U.S., encompassing what we would consider regular nonprofits or fairly conventional businesses in some cases; all around the world, the definition of social enterprise is essentially the same: an entity that uses a business model to achieve a social mission.
It’s time to hit the starting line of a new race to grow social enterprise, and the U.S. should compete hard. Why?