Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Entrepreneurship Means Business

I've been dying to come back to the issue of social entrepreneurship as addressed in my recent post about the documentary "Design & Thinking". Early on in the film one of the business leaders interviewed said a guiding principle should be to ask yourself the following questions [slightly paraphrased]:

"What is the higher calling?"
"How can an organization consecrate itself to that higher calling?"
"...to address the world's problems?"

At first I was puzzled because I am used to hearing this kind of language in religious conversations. However, a rapid mental reset was in order. What a growing number of organizations are doing today is looking at how to conduct their business with the goal of addressing societal and environmental problems. Across industries. This can be clearly demonstrated by the accelerating number, size, and profitability of Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs). 

Notice, by the way, I didn't say "solving" the world's problems, because, and this is my thought on the matter, if you set your mind firmly on a "goal" that you "must" achieve, it is harder to stay in it for the long haul. However, every organization (as well as person) has something to contribute. It can be as concrete as evaluating the plans for the product or software you are developing and considering the ramifications of its design. Perhaps you then change certain design attributes. The film documented several organizations that are doing just that.

Thus, another mental reset is to embrace the idea, advocated in the film, that it is not about tradeoffs. It is not about "Business vs. Society". It is about holding a certain perspective on the world and how we solve problems.  It is about acquiring a broad range of skills to be able to address the complexity of the world in a product - including for-profit enterprises. 

An existing organization, cruising along, can stop and ask itself at anytime the following questions:

"Are we having an impact?"  [on the higher calling identified previously]
"If not, why not?"
"What can be done to get there?"

Aside from profiling lots of examples to prove the point, it was these dirt simple gems of questions that were one of the most important takeaways of the documentary. Anyone sitting there watching was prodded to do more than just admire the people and organizations working for change.

Anyone, in any organization, from a sole proprietorship to a global behemoth, can ask these questions.

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