Social Entrepreneurs Need to Think Beyond the Business
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
In the past few years, the social enterprise space has evolved rapidly from a concept that required explanation to a trend everyone is eager to join. Business schools have drastically increased their social entrepreneurship course and club offerings, and many businesses and startups can get away with calling themselves a social enterprise. While grateful for the rise in people and businesses caring about making a positive social impact, I’m concerned that an over-emphasis on business solutions overshadows the need to address root causes of societal problems.
Social enterprises can become easily distracted building and managing their business instead of focusing on the problem they are trying to solve — even if the solution involves running a healthy business. A strong business model and management-style is critical to success, and I proclaim their value to a sustainable social enterprise as much as the next person. Yet, a social entrepreneur can run the most transparent, well-managed, profitable social enterprise in the world, and still not be solving the social problem their business is founded upon.
In fact, they could potentially be causing more harm than good (TOMS Shoes being the easy target, high-profile example of this kind of criticism). It doesn’t matter how great a social entrepreneur’s business is if their approach to solving a social problem is off-base and if they are not actively working to reevaluate or adjust their theory of change to their cause’s evolving needs.