Time For Social Entrepreneur 2.0

Time For Social Entrepreneur 2.0
Mel Young

I was a little shocked to read a short article in the wonderful weekly bulletin which is sent out by Senscot( www.senscot.net). It said: "the social enterprise community has a right wing and a left wing". The dramatic introduction caught my full attention.

It went to claim that the left wing was part of an emerging alternative economic system – an "eco-social" market economy – which regards social fairness and protection of the environment as vital criteria for all economic activity. And it maintained that those on the right are more comfortable with market fundamentalism and would like to relax social enterprise’s boundary with private commerce. It also claimed that most of the social enterprise blogs in England were right wing.

I didn’t know that I was a social entrepreneur until one day about 11 years ago when someone said to me: "you are a social entrepreneur". I had been called many things in my life and in that moment, I had found my identity. Yes, that’s exactly what I was. I had the DNA of a entrepreneur – willing to take risks, never taking no for an answer, always trying to innovate, potentially crazy and so on – but I differed from an entrepreneur in one key aspect: my outcome wasn’t about profit, it was about creating a social or environmental impact.

I felt very comfortable with my new identity. I met other people who had similar identity and quickly noticed how easy it was to get on with them. We shared the same passion about changing the world. We shared values and we quickly formed networks and partnerships. Some of them have become my best friends.

A small but clear sector started to emerge. It started to receive recognition and other people started to identify social entrepreneurs as leaders who might help solve some of the most difficult problems facing society. Social entrepreneurs seemed to be able to move effortlessly between the 3 traditional sectors: public, private and voluntary. Practical outcomes were achieved and some social entrepreneurs were able to scale their organisations and make some significant impact which lead to change.

In England, particularly in the run up to the general election in May 2010, all the political parties started praising social enterprises. Then with the new government talking about an "age of austerity" and the need to cut back on public spending, social entrepreneurs were being talked up as the people who would come in fill the void left when government pulled the plug on some public services.

All of a sudden, social entrepreneur were made to be political. Many people objected to public sector cuts and felt that social enterprises were simply coming in to run services "on the cheap". Politicians were quick to hail social enterprises as the answer to everything. A healthy debate followed which was followed by a lot of unhealthy comments.

Sadly, in amongst all of this the real definition of social entrepreneurship has been lost. There are now lots of people in England claiming to be social entrepreneurs and they certainly aren’t. To me, social entrepreneurship was never about "being a cheap replacement for public services": it was all about innovation, scalability and sustainability.

Now, the debate has moved on to a point where articles are being written about "left wing" and "right wing" social enterprises. This is nonsense. Social entrepreneurship was all about creating a completely new paradigm where the old concepts like left and right were not included.

Before this debate in England completely destroys the very concept of social entrepreneurship, we urgently need to look at the very definition and fundamentals of this precious sector. In China recently, some social entrepreneurs who were present at the New Champions meeting in Dalian talked informally about this issue and agreed that we need to come up with Social Entrepreneur 2.0 in order to create a proper identity. Having read this latest article about the "left" and "right", the sooner we get Social Entrepreneur 2.0 up and running the better. The matter is now urgent!