Unleashing the Power of Social Enterprise

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Can social enterprise be the panacea for the Green Economy? That was the question put to me as I joined a panel at the Fair Ideas summit in Rio as part of the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit.

My answer was an unqualified no. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of social enterprise and social entrepreneurs. There are fine examples of where they are doing amazing things against the odds, nurtured, supported and celebrated by networks such as the Skoll Foundation, Schwab Foundation and Ashoka. They are certainly part of the mix but not, to my mind, the solution.

Why? Put simply, they lack scale. Too often social enterprises remain small, perfectly formed organizations of five to ten people pursuing a “profits with purpose” agenda. My sense is that these social enterprises will act as business model blueprints for innovation within corporations. Look at IKEA, which in 2008 used more water in a day than the entire population of Sweden that entire year. Today IKEA uses 40% less water. Would even a one degree positive change in any massive corporation not be worth the combined impact of 100 social enterprises?

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek (link opens in a new window)

scale, social enterprise