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Are Social Entrepreneurs the capitalists of the future?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Friday, December 13, 2019

Esmee Wilcox proceeds with her review of social entrepreneurs and checks their impact on the future through her twelfth 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.


Our 2019 reflections back on the events of Berlin in 1989 help to orient ourselves to our mid-point of 60-years of economic change, out to 2049. This series deliberately stretches our capacity to conceive of shifts in social norms. Sufficient to enable organising models that address the complexity of 21st century enviro-socio-economic problems even over private economic gains. Our exploration has included structural and behavioural power, conceptions of poverty and education, and the influence of resource scarcity and abundance, we turn now to our final question: Will social entrepreneurs be more relevant and influential in our 2049 socio-economic models? If so, will they displace current actors to be the capitalists of the future?


The possibility of being more relevant comes in part from the failure of market and state actors to organise in ways that work with the complexity of present-day problems. Social entrepreneurs might draw on the strengths of occupying a transitional socio-economic space to model how to organise. Translating and convening across communities, state and market actors. Not tied to institutions, nor mimicking the fragmentation that private accumulation drives.


With networked social capital in abundance, social entrepreneurs can influence across essential present-day financial capital with foresight into what is more necessary in transition to 2049. The exchange of creative and collaborative capital. Ubiquitous technologies replicated at minimal costs that enable and encourage networks of simultaneous consumption and production.


Yet if one of the limits to transformation is the ossification of capital’s advantage through profit from gate-keeping. How might social entrepreneurs use what they have in abundance to shape a new capital infrastructure to be accessible to new entrants? Can they use their advantage in creative and collaborative capital to participate faster in and influence the development of 6th wave enviro-technologies? Might new currencies tied to social and environmental outcomes help?


The degree to which current state and market actors may become displaced, and who displaces them, will no doubt be shaped by waxing and waning global influencers, exporting economic and cultural norms. A more collectivist yet totalitarian Chinese foreign policy investing in European zero-carbon technologies might be more concerned with private accumulation than social system benefit. A USA retreating from foreign economic and cultural interventions might focus more sharply on reforming the efficacy of state action in the internal public realm. A burgeoning youthful African diaspora might normalise circumventing enterprise’s reliance on the state altogether.


These questions leave social entrepreneurs with a high level of ambiguity over the shape of the next 30 years. The plausibility of mobilising sufficient creative and collaborative capital towards social system benefit even over the decreasing fit of present-day capitalist models. Yet one lesson from history must be that the absence in 1989 of a consciousness of more effective socio-economic models has been in part responsible for their failure to take hold. Social Entrepreneurs, and their collaborators in market, state and community agents, are more visibly and consciously demonstrating this now. The Capitalism in late 21st century that Generation Z will be leading may be unrecognisable from the fragmented, physically oriented version we utilise now. Nonetheless, the capitalists of the future will be the ones that have the foresight to straddle and mobilise across current and future systems to be the most relevant of our time. Here is the opening to lead into.


© Esmee Wilcox, 2019

Tags:  capitalism  entrepreneurship  social entrepreneurs 

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