Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program publishes a blog post full of entrepreneurial questions on Africa. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The past fifteen years have been marked by notable advancements in infrastructure systems throughout the continent. Yet critical infrastructure problems with energy, transportation, and water still exist for millions of Africans. Looking at the contemporary history of infrastructure investment, African governmental leaders have dedicated finances to buildout. They have also growingly accepted foreign investment (particularly from Chinese investors) to fund projects. Though foreign investment is not new and certainly not a 2020 discovery, the repercussions the African people might experience due to foreign indebtedness over the next three decades must not be overlooked.
As foreign investors continue to support infrastructure projects in Africa, at what point might the magnitude of foreign indebtedness reach a tipping point for the African people? With infrastructure projects totaling over two trillion in dollars slated for the coming years, how might funding decisions by African leaders today impact the lives of the African people in the next three decades? Do current funding decisions allow for long-term sustainability or rather burden the African people with a catastrophic debt?
Debt financed infrastructure investment is often the default standard practice. Over recent decades international investors and private equity funds have canvased infrastructure projects throughout the continent. From an international investor perspective, Africa is a haven for risky yet lucrative financial returns. Public Private Partnerships (PPP), like Africa50, is another means of infrastructure investment in which the African government works alongside the private sector. What do the African people gain from these multi-billion dollar financed endeavors? Or rather, what are the African people potentially losing in decades to come as they are saddled with enormous debt? How does billions of dollars in debt allow for unlocking the potential of Africa by 2050?
At what point might the African people opt for a different approach to infrastructure development? At what point may a bottom-up movement from the African people overcome the top-down approach currently used by African leaders? How might a more localized, micro-development approach to infrastructure development better fuel African entrepreneurialism opposed to large-scale macro-development infrastructure projects?
Consider what a bottom-up approach to development may look like. Energy is an essential starting point. Imagine the power that accompanies capturing and creating energy locally – everything from running sanitation systems, to supporting humanitarian efforts, and even to promoting educational initiatives. As oil and gas discoveries in East Africa attract international industry, micro-grid electricity offers localized opportunities for the African people. Micro-grids for instance offer a sustainable and clean approach to fueling rural infrastructure needs throughout the continent. How might localized micro-grids impact a farm owner, a restaurant owner, or even an entrepreneur?
There is no denying that Africa is in need of infrastructure development. After decades of unsuccessful top-down to development, what benefits may arise from shifting toward a bottom-up approach? What benefits may local communities, their economies, and their entrepreneurial initiatives experience with a bottom-up approach? How might the next three decades be different than the past five decades if a bottom-up approach to infrastructure development replaces the top-down approach so prevalent throughout the continent?
As the African people are projected to hold 25% of the global talent in 2050, activating local and sustainable solutions when establishing critical infrastructure sets Africa on a new trajectory. A trajectory that empowers local entrepreneurship and leverages local talent all the while establishing critical infrastructure. How might altering the current approach to infrastructure development shift from a future of unsustainable debt toward a future of sustainability? A future where the African people are thriving and unlocking potential?
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the economic aspect of local entrepreneurship in Africa through her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In the early 2000s, the Africa Rising movement spurred the development of entrepreneurial opportunities in a contemporary way. But reflecting on the past two decades, what real momentum has come from entrepreneurship throughout the continent? What has hindered a lasting momentum and an enduring growth? Consider the impact that factionalism, tribalism, nepotism, and corruption have had on the successful long-term growth of entrepreneurship to date. Reflect on what real prosperity and development have accompanied the traditional political leadership model throughout the continent. Contemporary efforts of top-down development from African leaders over the past twenty years have not catapulted a robust existence of entrepreneurship across the general population. What can be done, starting now, so that a theme of thriving local entrepreneurship exists throughout the continent by 2050?
There is a real prospect for exponential growth related to entrepreneurial opportunities. As Africa seeks to unlock its potential by 2050, entrepreneurial ventures are essential to growth. However, an important nuance to a renewed effort involves an alternative approach. Consider the manifested impact that may arise for the African people as they adopt a bottom-up approach. How might ventures led by the African people opposed to a top-down approach from formal African leadership offer greater evolution? As systems of governmental instability, military rule, suppression, and genocide are overturned by grassroots efforts such as human rights, a growing feminist presence, educational advances, and increased networking, the continent is reshaped. Along with this evolution, entrepreneurship further opens the doors for new hope and prospects not before available to the people at large.
Transforming the continent calls for shifting values. A shift away from racism toward valuing human development. A shift away from communism and command economies toward appreciating open markets. A shift toward valuing educational and vocational programs. A shift away from poverty toward valuing a skilled workforce. A shift from destruction toward comparative progress and peace. Further, these values fuel long-term expansion and sustainability of a bottom-up form of entrepreneurship.
Local entrepreneurship lends itself to a variety of beneficial aspects for the African economy. Empowered local business owners, in turn, provide communities with sustainability, employment opportunities, internship and apprenticeship positions, and greater voice. At the same time, prosperous and meaningful local entrepreneurship disrupts historical power dynamics, contends against generational cycles of poverty, and encourages an end to the African brain drain. With the people driving the growth of local entrepreneurship, there is an exponential opportunity for higher discretionary spending throughout the economy from the bottom-up.
Another critical benefit of local entrepreneurship on the economy is its inclusive nature. Entrepreneurship is non-discriminating and can be inclusive across all geographies, industries, and cultures. Consider the economic benefits available to all sectors through local business innovations - businesses to address the infrastructure issues, climate change, oil and gas discoveries, preventative health care, urbanization, technological advances, living conditions, and agriculture, for example. Local entrepreneurship is the best hope for Africa and its people as they unlock their potential by 2050.
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 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 inspects the ability of social entrepreneurs in solving wicked problems through her tenth 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 world in 2050 will plausibly be connected in ways that seem unimaginable now. Not least the integration of virtual and physical socio-economies, and artificial and human re-combinations. We will have had to understand how to work with the complexity this creates. We know how difficult it is to bridge different systems. We know how corporations, education systems, and political movements proffer binary answers as a technique for maintaining the status quo. Looking ahead to 2050, how will social entrepreneurs need to be operating then to be more effective in solving wicked issues? What do they need to consider to make strides towards this?
In practice, how many of us have been involved in long-term visioning projects that generate promise and movement but fail to translate into the necessary significant change? Why do we keep repeating the exercises believing it will be different with a tweak? What we’re missing from these technical exercises are the difficult conversations about the new norms, values and behaviours that exist in these new futures, and how they affect us personally. We find it easier to hunt for examples of practice that we can recreate to transition from where we are now to this agreed plausible future. Instead of understanding the conditions – that our own behaviours create - in which these solutions could arise.
Take some of the self-organising movements in health and social care. These are deliberately and explicitly creating the service organisations that are congruent with the theory of agency over personal health. Practitioners interacting with patients have agency and are valued in ways that correspond with the agency and value they are supporting patients to find in themselves. By explicitly working on the values and behaviours that are required in the organisations of the future, they are disrupting and tackling the values and behaviours that are no longer effective in the present.
So what does this mean for social entrepreneurs that are already creating these ‘future fit’ enterprises? The skill is not only in being able to operate in these experimental transition spaces. It is also to create connections and meaning for people whose system is codified in the present. The practice needs to be in making the values and behaviours of everyone visible, explicit and connected to purpose in the new future. To then consciously move away from the present and step into new uncodified practice together, social entrepreneurs have to think about trust. Can social entrepreneurs extend their trust across competing value frameworks to hold the discomfort, the anxiety, and the tension when working in-between systems? Is part of this about being explicit about what’s behind the intention of actions? This would fit with evidence that we can mobilise surprising agents of change when we make our underlying preferences known.
Where social entrepreneurs can help institutional actors step into the transition space, we can imagine the release of band-with to tackle wicked issues. Including the paralysing healthcare conundrums such as investment in long-term wellbeing in conflict with short-term needs, which exist because we cannot conceive of the meta conditions changing. In this way social entrepreneurs are capable of solving the preponderance of highly connected, multi-causal, wicked problems we will become used to seeing as we enter the latter half of the twenty-first century.
At the same time, we ought to consider a parallel question about the impact of further atomisation and divisiveness within society. If social entrepreneurs are to succeed in tackling latter century wicked problems, how might they also work across these incendiary tribal lines?
Esmee Wilcoxdevotes her seventh blog post in our Emerging Fellows program to the role of social entrepreneurs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Governments may support social entrepreneurs as instruments of social policymaking, verified by citizens own confidence in their capacity to deliver reductions in inequalities. But present day institutional structures disproportionately eases existing capital into the public realm and influences strategic policy-making. Instead, how might social entrepreneurs lead the dialogue on the shape of the public realm and the relationships between government and enterprise over the next 30 years. What forms ought to be displaced? What new roles ought social entrepreneurs play? What would the benefits be of working towards this future?
We are presently focussed on the current resources at the disposal of the public sector. The generational and debt imbalances are driving an exclusive preoccupation with the financial costs of social support. The consequences of under-investment in public assets are not yet creating solidarity between those capitalising on the current system and those bearing the brunt of building the new system at scale.
Social entrepreneurs are already operating in the public realm, creating political legitimacy through a more direct, meaningful and beneficial relationship between consumers, participants and communities. This challenges the legitimacy of public institutions that – for risk of often abstractly defined failure and the strength of existing capital – are unable to disrupt their organising models. Social innovators also challenge the redundancy in hierarchical, standing organisations that are able to deliver financial accountability and steady-state services but not adapt to the creativity and ingenuity required in tackling today’s social issues.
If we are to change the system within which public benefits are produced we need to secure changes to the scale at which they are addressed, the accountability models that are used, and the ease with which collaborations can happen. In the latter half of this century we might imagine changes that fundamentally alter all three of these conditions favourably towards social entrepreneurs, and allow them to play a more strategic role in the public realm.
Health technology social enterprises, collaborating with self-organised long-term condition community interest companies, are already displacing the power of the capital resources tied up in private insurance and hospital trusts. In this way they are changing the scale of public policy-making from one based on the social structures of government institutions, to one that forms around the social structures of the agents of change.
Automation ought to enable accountability for public resources to get in step with the complexity of social issues being addressed, away from reductionist approaches. In removing the need for labour intensive financial management that perpetuates inflexible, hierarchical organising models. In enabling evaluation frameworks that represent, and don’t distort, the reality of the production of social outcomes. In lowering the transaction costs of work collaborations, the forming and reforming of work vehicles as issues of public interest change.
We can imagine the effect being to free up public sector organisations to focus on the complexity of social issues that will need to be addressed in the latter half of this century. The concern for inequalities manifesting more in basic access to food, energy and water with more of us living in precarious circumstances. Without a vision of how to tackle these types of issues, with newfound freedoms the public sector might simply freeze. Or the dominant position of existing capital might entrench itself.
Social entrepreneurs might seek clues for extending their political legitimacy now in their ability to straddle, influence and mobilise across the public sector, with capital, and in communities. Working with communities to deliberate and create a sense of agency over the use of their collective data assets, drawing in capital investment in ‘healthy-creative’ economic infrastructure on the communities’ own terms.
Social entrepreneurs might play a much more influential role in the public realm in this future, creating new notions of what a public good is, and how to measure, account for and create them. A future where hierarchies are redundant and social capital is in ascendency. What other paradigm shifts might the rise in public influence of social entrepreneur’s result in?
Esmee Wilcoxwrites 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?
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Sunday, February 24, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Esmee Wilcox has published her second blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She believes social entrepreneurs are succeeding where they understand how to make use of the creative capital. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
It’s easy to think of social entrepreneurs as providing the antidote to modern capitalism. Seen from this perspective, social entrepreneurs are likely to remain at the margins of unreformed capitalism in the latter half of this century. The production of social value out of balance with the primacy of the economy. But hidden within the creative means of producing social goods lie the opportunities to tackle complex global challenges. So where are there hints of these new social norms that could displace how we value economic capital? How might this help us transition towards a world rich in creative capital?
Looking back, there are examples of nineteenth and twentieth-century capitalism that shifted the organising model towards greater social benefits. The Co-operative movement is well known. Public enterprise perhaps less so, but particularly influential in the USA in shifting popular perceptions of what was important for society at large. From the distribution of ice for food safety in rapidly growing municipalities in the early twentieth-century, to the building of ships to keep supply lines open during the second world war. They required a level of social co-operation to displace private gain.
They were distinct from charitable activity that is dependent on philanthropy and separate from the means of economic production. Not only did these co-operative enterprises challenge the imbalance of economic and social value. What they also did through a co-operative model was to demonstrate a more creative means of enterprise.
The social values that were necessary to engage workers in producing social benefits, were what enabled the production of economically valuable goods to be more efficient and innovative. It’s the same empathy, generosity and inclusivity that enables us to work across disciplines and organisational siloes in our modern creative enterprises. We need these organising principles to be widespread to tackle the complex, interconnected issues of our times. We live with hyper-connectivity in our age of the internet. The social, political and environmental challenges we face exist within complex systems.
Co-operative enterprises are more akin to self-organising systems, which we know are capable of co-evolving with changes in the external, operating environment. This self-organising model challenges the existing economic order that links power and status with capital and hierarchies. We no longer need ‘rent-seeking’ managers that disconnect those thinking about the problem from those experiencing the problem. People are able to think and solve problems in dynamic systems themselves. Human capability and ingenuity is released in unexpected places.
Communities that are poor in capital and consumptive power threaten those that steadfastly hold onto it. Government institutions need to stop seeing socially inclusive enterprises as replacements for welfare programmes. Government Innovation Prizes could hint at a shift in practice, making it easier for new social enterprises to find a way in to organising around a myriad of complex societal issues. But it’s Social Innovation Incubators that are countering the institutional bias against people from poor places, who have been held back from accessing their own creative capital. Acknowledging and bridging the gap between those that know the rules of the game and those that want to create new ones.
Vested interests will give up economic power where the alternative is more compelling in the present. However much we may foresee the redundancy of capitalism as it stands, social enterprise will only displace it where it can also be resonant now.
Social entrepreneurs are succeeding where they understand how to make use of the creative capital that is more evenly distributed amongst us. The economic capital we have now won’t be meaningful in the age of scarcity at the end of the twenty-first century. What will matter is how we self-organise around the complex challenges of our times. Empathetic, inclusive, and generous social entrepreneurs can show us how to make this transition.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Polina Silakova‘s eighth post in our Emerging Fellows program continues to explore social entrepreneurs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Previously we have discussed the potential of social entrepreneurship to make a shift in social values and to address wicked problems through social innovation. What changes in public and private sectors are needed for social entrepreneurship to become future-proof in the capitalistic world?
Government is starting to play an enabling role in the development of the sector. Initiatives like social enterprise strategies, social procurement or social impact investment start to reshape institutional and cultural frameworks of the past. Procuring services from a social enterprise or from a traditional vendor might make no difference in terms of the services received. But it does make a difference for people from disadvantaged groups who get the job or for those from vulnerable groups who benefit from the redistributed profit. Yet, a significant maturity of legislation is still required to better define this sector and to help other players understand what a social enterprise is and what it is not.
Another legislative change needed is about the behaviour that gets incentivised. What if governments would support businesses which are driven not by the desire to maximise profit, but which put community first? This step might seem counterintuitive in the market economy, but it turns out that a government operating based on the principles of commons already exists.
Municipalists, such as Barcelona en Comú – a new movement, independent from political parties – challenge the current understanding of democracy by putting the common goals of city residents in the heart of their policy-making. Despite conservative politicians initially criticising them for being naive, lacking understanding where city money comes from and even tagging them “the democratic mistake”, en Comú proved they were fit to serve the community in just a couple of years.
By focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable population, they:
•do business only with hotels that agree to pay a living wage
•create new affordable housing, many of which were previously vacant bank-owned units
•looking at extending store opening hours to address economy of care – mostly female part of the population whose primary labor is caring for others
•and even launched a publicly held energy company.
According to the Mayor Ada Colau, they are “prioritising people and common objectives above any other vested interest and any other type of power”. This would not turn any enterprise in a social enterprise, but is it a good enough shake-up for businesses to realise that the rules of the game are changing?
And what about businesses? Here as well we see emerging partnerships between corporates and social entrepreneurs. IKEA, for example, employs local artisans in vulnerable communities around the world. Through limited edition collections handcrafted by women from these communities, the company attempts to tackle social challenges: alleviate poverty, empower women and integrate refugees into a new to them society. They call it “business for good, for everyone”. PR or an active social agenda? It does not matter. Remember Erick Jantsch’s theory of social change? Once this initial change in behaviour, introduced by innovators, becomes a norm, a change in social values will follow.
And the process has started already. Australia’s GoodCompany has announced its annual rating of Top 40 Best Workplaces to Give Back. Corporates compete to get on the list by providing pro bono work, sponsorship or volunteering. Is this a natural trajectory of evolution – from maximising shareholders value (and sometimes actively doing harm) to understanding that this approach is not sustainable? Can we reach the other side of the scale, where maximising the value for the community will be essential to remain competitive? While social entrepreneurs are learning from corporations how to do business, can corporations learn from social entrepreneurs how to make business good-for-all?
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Friday, September 7, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Polina Silakova‘s seventh post in our Emerging Fellows program continues to explore social entrepreneurs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Social entrepreneurship is winning more and more hearts and minds. It is showing a potential to disrupt traditional business models. For now, it is still quite niche and will need to come a long way to be seriously considered as an evolution of capitalism. The time required for the sector to mature and the broader ecosystem to introduce mechanisms for collaboration is one reason. Yet the main cause is probably that it is just bloody hard to be a social entrepreneur.
Not only do you face all the issues that most start-ups are too familiar with – unstable cash flow, scalability, securing high product quality with limited resources – there is also an additional level of complexity: delivering on the promise to give back to the community. To make things harder, it is not enough just to be doing good – you are expected to demonstrate that your approach is working. With social impact in the heart of the business proposition, it is essential to be radically transparent about profit and how it gets distributed. For a social enterprise, earning customers’ trust is more critical than almost for anyone else: no customer wants to find out that the dollars they spent to support a social cause have sponsored someone’s luxurious vacation. And trust takes time.
On top of the challenges of these early days when social entrepreneurship is toddling its way into the big economic system, we would argue that some of the obstacles are created by the entrepreneurs themselves. The very disconformity which drives social entrepreneurs to start their own business in the first place might be doing them a disservice at a later stage. Surveys suggest that after the paramount motivation to make the difference, the key motives driving these startuppers are the need for acknowledgment and heroism. Combined with a strong attachment to a specific social issue, this might make collaboration with other entrepreneurs more difficult. Opportunities to make more impact with joint forces are being missed. This leads to the high fragmentation of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem which slows down the development of the sector.
Previously, we touched on the lessons that business can adopt from nature. Is there a recipe from the wild world which would help social entrepreneurs? Potentially, yes – the phenomenon called the edge effect. In ecology, the edge effect happens at the boundary where two ecosystems, such as forest and savannah, meet. This is the place where the most forms of life are born. By drawing on the distinct features of the two different habitats, edge effect creates the environment for unprecedented biodiversity. A lot has been said about the importance of diversity for innovation, and social innovation is not different.
Stepping out of the zone where you have full control, letting the certainty go and trusting emergence might not be easy. This is the time and space when one might get uncomfortable with the ambiguity of how the future might unfold. This space is called liminal space – the threshold where the solutions from the past are not effective anymore and the new solutions are only shaping. Despite the discomfort, with a little luck and trust this space might uncover completely new answers to an old problem – it can show the way to innovation.
To part with one’s personal ambitions in order to amplify social impact might be hard. But if we truly want to make a sustainable change, we need to move from ego- to eco-system, as Otto Scharmer puts it. We live in the time when we need not heroes but leaders. Leaders, who sense how to jump on an opportunity, able to think in systems, connect the dots and connect with people, drawing on the collective talent.
In the age of connected devices, the ability to collaborate and to come up with creative solutions is one of the key traits differentiating us from machines; it needs to be cherished. We need to shift from problem-solution matching to the recognition that many of today’s issues don’t have a known solution. Trusting a collective co-creation process can get us closer to finding what works. By going beyond the edge for more collaboration, social entrepreneurs could accelerate social innovations. This could help the whole sector more quickly to become a more serious alternative to traditional business.
Finding yourself at the edge might feel uncomfortable, but what if a step forward would give us wings?