What exactly IS “social entrepreneurship?” According to Wikipedia (very much a social enterprise in its own respect), it is the practice of using entrepreneurial principles and practices to make a social change. While this is certainly true, I think it also calls for the healthy balance between idealism and realism. Oftentimes, what we see in non-profits is the amazing passion to do good, to change the world. However, what I think it lacks is the type of structure and healthy skepticism that prevents it from transforming that passion into action, into tangible, SCALABLE results. More importantly, I think what it encourages is a sense of collaboration at levels that we have not seen in the traditional non-profits. In economics, there is the rule of comparative advantage, where each party produces what it does best. In the world of social entrepreneurship, however, I believe that to see it through most effectively, there can no longer be individual silos in which any one entity operates — rather, there is a call for greater levels of collaboration, for valuing BREADTH in addition to depth, and recognizing that there needs to be an overlap at times.
The World Affairs Council in Northern California hosted an event last night that addressed this very issue, with the target audience being the 20-something year olds. Everyone was asked to choose an issue they felt particularly passionate about, and discuss it within their groups. Among the issues outlined were: health, human rights, education, disaster relief, fair trade, microfinancing, and the like.
For me, that issue has been education, particularly for children, because I believe that only through education can we truly “lift all boats.” I guess as the saying goes, you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but you can teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime. While I know that sounds like the very idealism I had discouraged earlier on, I think that by combining the tools that we have already developed in technology with the market-driving principles of scalability and replication, we are at the cusp of something revolutionary.
However, I don’t think that any of the issues mentioned above — health, human rights, fair trade, environment — can truly stand on its own. As I mentioned earlier, the issues brought forth are all intertwined and connected. Education should not only be about the fundamental principles of language, mathematics, or the sciences. Rather, imbued within it needs to be a curriculum that makes all of the issues social entreprise aims to address as part of its overarching objective.