Esmee Wilcox writes her third blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She evaluates social entrepreneurs’ potency in terms of power and influence. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
We’re living in a world where our institutions have been shaped by the power of capital are increasingly less able to meet the changing needs of citizens. Social entrepreneurs can offer alterative pathways through collaborative and creatively intense enterprises. If we fast forward to 2050, how might social entrepreneurs create new forms of power and influence? How might they exert this?
2050 will see the middle age of the next but one generation. We’re just switching on now to the influence of Millennials in the working age population. In 2050 Generation Z will be in charge. They will probably have lived through another global economic crash, after the end of the rapid rise of the next wave of technology. The seeds of that technology are around us now, responding to climate and population change and attempting to tackle the scarcity of food, energy and water. The more open socio-economic systems may be more conducive to these new technologies combining, innovating and solving problems at scale.
Capitalists and the myriad of related institutions derive power and influence by controlling the development of the infrastructure of our dominant technologies. Capital is allocated on the extent to which it can derive private gains to investors, over the most expedient timeframes. What would it look like if instead we allocated capital on the basis of social cost and benefit, over time and spatial dimensions that allowed for systems development? How might we develop the infrastructure of the next wave of technology if decisions are based on social metrics? We might see investment programmes that leverage payback from the creation of social capital as an end in itself and not as a proxy for economic growth. We might see global investment networks that tolerate the risks of start-ups from poor communities with greatest environmental potential.
So how might social entrepreneurs seize the opportunities in the next 15 years to shape the infrastructure around the next wave of technology? How might they use their networked influence that taps into the social concerns of Generation Y and Z?
We know there will be moments where the economic, political and environmental crises will open up spaces to redefine the legitimacy of existing power. Think about our current international concern for tax avoiding corporations that dominate particular technologies. Our political institutions, influenced by capitalist models as they are now, have been unable to collaborate to regulate the exchange of benefits for the social and economic system costs. Corporations play on the different local socio-economic conditions including desires for short-term growth.
Where capital starts to be allocated on a social return and system benefit, short-term policies that court tax avoiders start to decline. Where political institutions have failed to create the pressure for corporations to reform, social entrepreneurs, who derive their political power through networks and the production of known social benefits, may be more able to step in.
But crucially, to shape the infrastructure of the next wave of technologies social entrepreneurs need to be connected into the innovation ecosystems where the technologies will combine. From a number of different reporting metrics, social enterprises are on the rise globally. To capitalise on this growth, they need to be collaborating with enterprises that are seeking to tackle the problems of our environmental limits. This ecosystem leadership requires a step-change in resources and mindset that allows for adaptive, long-term approaches.
2050 could be the place where power and influence are no longer dependent on financial capital but on the systems benefits of sharing new technologies widely. In this future social entrepreneurs could have expanded their political legitimacy and technical credibility to shape the enabling infrastructure. This is a future where networking of accrued social capital has more influence than closed institutions. The question still remains, what are the best routes to expand that network?
© Esmee Wilcox 2019