Esmee Wilcox reviews the formation of social entrepreneurs through communities in her eleventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
We live in a world where familial, cultural and political conflict seems more and more prevalent. This appears a world away from the normalisation of collaboration required in the development of new socio-economic organising models that I’ve talked about. Alternative models to market and state failure. More fit for a digital, interconnected world with an abundance of social but not physical capital, with flow displacing the importance of accumulation. The question remains: can social entrepreneurs bridge the divides across polarised but overlapping communities, to organise across divided and incendiary tribal lines? Would they fare better than state or corporate actors? More than ever, this must be seen as a fundamental question of our future and present times.
Let’s look first to some of the social enterprises working in places which have seen years of violent conflict between distinct communities. What have they been able to do to heal the trauma of conflict and enable people to organise across these lines? In Northern Ireland, social enterprises operating in ‘interface areas’, are pulling young people into sustainable future-focussed activities away from politically divisive and even paramilitary activities. In the Philippines, social enterprises are tackling the socio-economic causes of ‘intra-clan’ conflict, with profitable, co-operative, enterprise activity that can also fund healing post-crisis mediation. Social enterprises operating in areas which have seen the consequences of other conflicts through immigration, such as the Lebanon, Germany and the UK, have been successful in challenging stigma and exclusion. Where participation in enterprising activity, as producers and customers, shifts the dominant narrative of ‘other tribes’ as dependent and different, social enterprises are enabling displaced people to organise with existing resident communities.
In reflecting on these examples, is it the connections and trust that social entrepreneurs have that enables convening and mediation? Is it the recognition of enterprising opportunities against expectations? How might state and corporate actors also fare out to 2050?
State provision of universal ‘services’ and ‘organisations’ or ‘opportunities’ enable otherwise disconnected people to meet, bond and often organise in a place. In spite of conflicting moves to reduce the population supported, states might choose to amplify this convening function. In seeing a ‘post-market’ role in growing social networks to solve complex problems. In which case, the ability to influence within and across distinct communities becomes the priority.
Both corporate and state actors might be responding to the influx of enviro-economic migrants over the next 30 years. More often welcomed due to significant global imbalances in population age profile. Might corporate actors thrive where they can monetise the innovation potential in a clash of values and cultures? Will they use technology such as blockchain to build trust across far larger networks of consumption and production?
It still hard to see how political and corporate actors can move at scale beyond the model of consumption that is well oiled by accelerating connections with those we readily self-identify with. Social entrepreneurs operating on the margins may be more plausibly able to create the social, political and cultural conditions – including the value we perceive in organising with ‘others’ across tribal lines – for co-evolving new forms of consumption and production. Models that can address the inherent fragility in conflict, that we may have to more frequently design around in later 21st century economies. If social entrepreneurs are capable of doing this, might this displace the influence of present-day state and market actors?
© Esmee Wilcox, 2019