Want To ‘Scale’ Social Impact? Then Give Away Your Trade Secrets
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
If the ecosystem of social change were an orchestra, social enterprise would be an amped-up brass section drowning out all the other instruments and any semblance of nuance. Everywhere you turn now, the talk is about revenue models and about doing well while doing good. In our efforts to better the world, we’ve become enterprise-obsessed.
The obsession goes beyond true social businesses, for which the very sale of products and services advance a social mission; NGOs are now scrambling to get their piece, asking how they can sell their intellectual property or anything else that might be monetized.
Of course, all of this is done in the service of sustainability, and sustainability is always good, right? Not necessarily. In our push to sell everything, we may be selling social impact short.
There is a vital difference between building an organization and advancing an idea – between growing an institution and changing a pattern in society. They’re often related, of course: think PETA and the advancement of animal rights, or Grameen Bank and the advancement of microcredit. But they are not one and the same, and in fact they frequently come into conflict. Our failure to see the distinction means we’re more likely to do what’s best for our organization, and not necessarily what’s best for the world.