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Social Entrepreneurship On The Rise

We live in a dichotomy of progress.

On one hand, new products and services are being created every day that make our lives a little easier. On the other hand, we have serious unmet social needs, especially here in Mississippi and throughout the South.

We are led to believe that choices must be made between business and government. Problems and solutions are either economic and for profit in nature or social in nature and the responsibility of the government. We comfortably compartmentalize and rarely see scalability with social services.

Historically, we have defined the entrepreneur as the business change-maker with the ability to identify market flaws or problems, craft creative and scalable solutions, and monetize the solution. Likewise, we have referred to the social change maker, such as Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandel, as a humanitarian, that individual dedicated to recalibrating equity.

Until very recently, there was a clear definitional divide between entrepreneurs and humanitarians and the problems they sought to solve. Over the last fifteen years, we have experienced a proliferation of information and data and a greater awareness of failing organizations, both in business and the government. We have fewer financial resources and our problems are becoming increasingly more complicated.

As our problems have grown in complexity, social entrepreneurs are reorganizing the problem solving process so that social needs can be met in a timely manner and based upon innovative solutions.

Many for profit organizations have been too focused on margins and efficiencies, making decisions that end up having significant negative impacts on the communities in which they reside. The government, on the other hand, tends to identify what is viewed to be a problem, legislates it or throws money at it, and makes adjustments, if any, to that policy at a glacial pace. No outcome in either situation is desirable.

The rising awareness of the inability and incapacity of business and government to address significant societal issues has triggered a change making movement that is not subject to traditional definitions or limitations. This change making movement is both local and global. It is politically engaging and it is not. It is focused on social and ecological value creation as well as financial value creation. It is evolutionary and revolutionary. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise.

Social entrepreneurs not only deploy technical business principles towards solving social problems, but they also connect and reconfigure human capital and financial capital resources. In a time of mass fractionalization, social entrepreneurs are intentionally inclusive in the problem solving process. Social entrepreneurs have a healthy degree of restlessness, but they tend to also possess measured practicality.

As opposed to leaving societal problem solving to the government, social entrepreneurs are the triangulating force that connects private sector resources, the government, and empowered community leaders. As our problems have grown in complexity, social entrepreneurs are reorganizing the problem solving process so that social needs can be met in a timely manner and based upon innovative solutions. Gone are the days where solving societal issues are relegated to the legislative process.

Dominic Barton, McKinsey global managing director, recently pointed out that global capitalism was at a crossroads. “We can reform capitalism, or we can let capitalism be reformed for us, through political measures and the pressures of an angry public.” Barton suggests that capitalism should revert back to the principles of Adam Smith, who believed that business and society were significantly interdependent.

Our societal challenges in the areas of health, housing, education, the environment, and elsewhere demand cross-disciplinary and multi-faceted strategies. Businesses cannot focus exclusively on short term economic gains while neglecting the overall need for shared value. Likewise, the government cannot legislate its way through the problem solving process.

Bill Drayton is the quintessential social entrepreneur and actually helped create the term. Drayton is the founder and current chair of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, an organization that is dedicated to finding and helping social entrepreneurs around the world. Ashoka Foundation has sponsored well over 2,000 social entrepreneur fellows in 73 countries, many of whom have gone on to develop leading social businesses that have made a huge impact on communities around the world.

A great example of a domestic social enterprise is Corbin Hill Farm. Corbin Hill Farm is a social enterprise addressing the lack of availability of fresh foods for low-income communities in “food deserts” like the South Bronx and Harlem. In response to quality control issues of mega-grocers and escalating food prices, the founders created something akin to “community-supported agriculture,” a member-based farm share that promotes a positive outlook toward food production and consumption.

Finally, one of the most identifiable social enterprises in the world is TOMS. TOMS popularity and mission is global in nature. Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS in 2006 after a visit to Argentina where he learned that many children get sick or injured because they do not have shoes to wear. To address this issue, Mycoskie created TOMS, a business that donates one pair of shoes to needy people for every pair that is purchased by a customer. So far, the company has donated more than a million pairs of shoes.

Social entrepreneurship is on the rise. The concept and principles of social entrepreneurism are evolving almost on a daily basis. As these principles become more refined and mainstream, it will be critically important for these strategies to be implemented in the South.

My home state of Mississippi should be a laboratory for social entrepreneurs. From poverty to food insecurity, from poor education outcomes to obesity, and so on, we should be incentivizing social entrepreneurial activity and enterprises. It is critically important for us to reposition our problem solving process and reconfigure the resources we have to solve these problems.

“Just a world that we all must share, it’s not enough to just stand and stare.” – Pink Floyd


Matthew McLaughlin

Matthew McLaughlin

Matthew McLaughlin is a partner with the law firm of Balch & Bingham LLP in Jackson, MS where he enjoys helping his clients tell their stories. You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @jxnmclaughlin or follow his blog buildingpurpose.com.
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