Amid plummeting financial markets and rising sustainability concerns, the term “social enterprise” has generated a lot of buzz recently. But can businesses that prioritize social change over profit really hope to survive in competitive markets?
According to a recent BBC article, prospects are looking up.
In Britain, “Social enterprises are [sic] bucking the gloomy economic trend,” reports the BBC. “Last year 58% of social enterprises grew compared with 28% of mainstream small and medium-sized businesses.”
Much of this success, BBC writes, can be attributed to social enterprises’ ability to leverage gaps in currently fragmented markets toward socially conscious ends.
“They see opportunities in market failure,” Celia Richardson, director of campaigns at Social Enterprise UK, told BBC, “so these are the perfect conditions for the social enterprise sector.”
The current economic climate is certainly ripe for innovative and agile companies. However, as Ode has predicted in the past, it’s also likely that a more fundamental – post-financial meltdown – shift in the way we view business’ role in society is spurring social enterprise’s momentum, too.
“People are tired of business as usual,” Andrew Tolve wrote for Ode in Mar. 2009, “The exasperation is palpable, but so is the hope that this time, we can and will do things differently. Social entrepreneurs have always believed this, and for many, it’s their moment to shine.”
“Social entrepreneurship has suddenly become cool.”
This is reflected in the emergence of green and socially conscious MBA programs, which Ode discussed in Nov. 2009:
Upward of a dozen institutions now offer curricula geared toward green MBAs. Traditional business schools have increased their focus on sustainability as well. Many have started centers for social innovation; still more have introduced concentrations in ethics and the environment…
The idea is to integrate traditional subject matters into a setting that mirrors business in the 21st century. No longer are students there just to learn the basics or to make profitable connections. They’re being educated in how to apply the theme of sustainability to every arena of business.
Few things hasten the pace of positive change as quickly as making it profitable. Not only are social enterprises proving this is possible, but it seems they’re also helping to usher forth a change in the way we define the term, “entrepreneur”.
“Since the 1970s, we’ve witnessed the rise of financial desperados who—misusing the term “entrepreneur” – have added a shadow to the glory of market capitalism,” wrote Jurriaan Kamp in a 2009 editorial for Ode. “And that’s perhaps the good news of the current financial crisis: Entrepreneurs can and should become real entrepreneurs again – people enriching society with meaningful solutions and innovations.”
For more information on social enterprises progress in Britain, check out Social Enterprise UK’s “Fightback Britain” report – available here.