Thursday, June 28, 2012

Social Entrepreneurship

Business is often thought of, in the United States anyway, as a clear path to putting money in your pocket or the pockets of whoever is in charge of said business. And it is, but I believe we have forgotten as a country the other benefits of entrepreneuralism outside of profit making, such as providing jobs, enabling infrastructure growth, and providing access to health care in the form of the benefits it offers employees so that its employees are healthy enough to keep the business operating. All these things help both the community at large and the business owners and the employees. So in reality business isn't just about making money, its also about creating a healthy and functioning community. Money is just one mechanism that enables an entire ecosystem to be successful. That ecosystem is our community and in a broad view, our nation.

New Orleans and its surrounding towns is an area often abandoned by not only the federal government but also the state. The state of Louisiana notoriously allows large corporations to use and abuse and throw away its people. Why else would oil companies be allowed to forget about the thousands of miles of unused and abandoned oil canals of the oil companies making? The result of these canals is our entire state eroding into the ocean, in fact a football field of Louisiana land disappears into open water every 38 minutes. In addition to the impacts of the oil canals is mans attempts to control the wild Mississippi River, preventing the soil build up that has given our state its land mass for centuries. By ignoring the impacts of oil canals, we are prioritizing corporate profits over peoples lives in Louisiana and calling it a free market. In place of the state, is a rising tide of ordinary folks taking things into their own hands. They are losing this battle everyday and are in desperate need of government help and there will be a day where folks on the Gulf Coast will be either swept into the Gulf or forced to evacuate, but they do it nonetheless.  This is exactly why governments exist, to wield a larger hand when individuals aren't able to do so for themselves.

As the business community (and those in political office and trade associations that represent the business community) in the United States continues to move away from this understanding leaving its employees and patrons struggling to successfully access and utilize healthcare, the financial system, and struggle with decaying infrastructure, while bringing in record profits resulting in a collapsing economy except for the very very rich, community members are rising up to find solutions. The long term result of this shift of responsibility for uplifting a community away from business towards social justice organizations is that our businesses will  eventually be run by people who are better able to be productive members of the community. Business will once again regain a sense of respect for the community that allows it to exist. One such solution is social entrepreneurship.

What do I mean by social entrepreneurship?

"Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society's most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change." - Ashoka

Social entrepreneurship is the recognition of a social problem and the uses of entrepreneurial principles to organisze, create and manage a social venture to achieve a desired social change.  - wikipedia

I also see social entrepreneurship in the work of very large companies such as Toms and Seventh Generation. These companies make a profit but part of the way in which it does is by doing good for the communities that need it. These models are slightly more traditional business than say Kiva, which is a non-profit that lends out micro-loans to small business people.

I am more and more attracted to the social entrepreneurs who are challenging the status quo of both business and government. I no doubt will run my own business one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, and do not see my role as solely making money. I firmly believe that profits over people is not sustainable and we only have to look at our world's current financial problems for proof. That was never business's sole purpose and it shouldn't be now.

Update June 30:

I just found this article that says New Orleans is seeing an entrepreneurial rate 40% higher than the national average.

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