On Social Entrepreneurship

The HOPE GLOBAL FORUM, an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, corporate executives and non-profit profesionals working to craft solutions that create an economic system that includes ALL, (meaning minorities and the underserved); took place last week in Atlanta.

My participation was possible thanks to an invitation by Louis Negron, President of the Atlanta Market and highest ranking Latino in this global non-profit founded by John Hope Bryant, a successful entrepreneur and thought leader that is the right mix of CEO, minister, celebrity and the fun kid in the block.

I left the event inspired and motivated seeing thousands of individuals from the US Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew to Dr. Alice M Rivlin, Director of the Brookings Institute to Dikembe Mutombo and Chelsea Clinton, so willing to learn and work towards a new type of inclusion.  One that believes we no longer need to talk about brown or black, we need to talk about GREEN.  Green as in money.

The new color is not white or black, is GREEN! says John Hope Bryant; and everybody claps and smiles and we know he believes it because he walks the talk.  John is a kid that got a C- from Compton School District in math, yet he runs a global non-profit and several business ventures, John Hope Bryant is the perfect example of a social entrepreneur and with that in mind, I went to the conference.

While I did not attend the session on fostering entrepreneurship in youth, I understand that Thahn Tran from Kidpreneur did a FANTASTIC job sharing some of his learnings and ideas, inspiring hundreds of attendees, mostly teachers! in his session.

Lisa Borders, from the Coca-Cola Foundation was also instrumental in making a case on the importance of WOMEN as the fastest growing economic force in the world and the many barriers they (we!) face.

Attending the session on Social Entrepreneurship felt like something was missing… I could not find the entrepreneurship component in the panelists or in their presentation; and the same went with the new trends in philanthropy panel.

Social enterprises, incorporated as businesses, are still and unfortunately, outliers when the discussions are around community impact.  Either you are a non-profit asking for money or you are corporation or foundation offering money.  There are not many shades in that spectrum.  There is no in-between and there is no awknowledgement that perhaps the only sustainable solutions to many of the social problems rely on models that capitalize in those same forces that help perpetuate the problems.

A social enterprise can solve social issues precisely because it shows consumers that there IS another way to do business.  That you CAN make money while working to create deep change or at least disrupt the status quo and raise questions and doubts on the current models.

What makes social ventures and social enterprises different from corporate social responsibility, cause marketing or well-run non-profit programs is that their goal is to tackle a social problem with an innovative business idea and they build a model around it.

CSR and cause marketing look for “fit” between business objectives and their charitable priorities,  or focus on the issues during certain times of the year, when business allows or when they realize the cause has the same audience as the business.

Social enterprises use the power of business to do good and solve social problems. ALL THE TIME.

Take the case of BetterWorldBooks or Grammeen Bank, as great examples of what we can accomplish with this model.

When Kate Cole from Focus brands talks about the B-Business Compact as a social entrepreneurship initiative, I just can’t see it.   While it is a fantastic opportunity for youth and corporations to connect with the ultimate goal of bridging the gap between high school education and professional experience by offering interniships and mentorship, it is still a program run by employees funded by other sources and relying on donations and in my opinion, highly volatile.

When Les Biller created BankWors$ in 2006, he identified the opportunity to train low-income young adults to match them to bank teller jobs available in different markets.  To this day, BankWork$ has trained 1000 youths and has plans to expand nationally.  While a great initiative and program, I still don’t find the entrepreneurship component, if you define entrepreneurship as “the willingness to take risks and develop, organize and manage a business venture in a competitive global marketplace that is constantly evolving”.

Both examples above are great non-profit/corporate partnerships with significant impact in their communities.  They make a great case to support community investment and the idea of finding the right “fit” between non-profit programs and funders but they are NOT social enterprises.  They are not tackling a social problem by trying to disrupt the system or by creating a different business model.   They are programs that alleviate some issues, they do not address the cause, they do not intend to create systemic change and they do not present a business case that can be followed and scaled.

There is nothing more powerful than a good idea in the hands of a first-class entrepreneur, mentions Ashoka in its homepage; and we have to agree.

“To be poor is not to have anything, it is to not DO anything” Proverbs, according to John Hope Bryant”

I am looking forward to the NEXT HOPE GLOBAL FORUM ON MARCH 17, 2017!


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