Why we want social entrepreneurship: Charity just isn’t sufficient

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To bring about real social change for the future, we need to rely on the innovative creativity of for-profit entrepreneurship and the moral direction of community service to create sustainable social entrepreneurship practice.

As a social entrepreneur and business consultant, I often come across a company’s tendency to box business people as if they could only have one focus: money or social action. With firsthand experience of having one foot on either side of the metaphorical divide, I can confidently say that this mindset is nonsense – and limiting for those on either side.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in a misunderstanding of what social entrepreneurship is. In my role as a local consultant, I often come across customers who are surprised by my request for compensation – as if I should offer my services free of charge because the task at hand is based on the pursuit of social change. Let’s consider for a moment the effectiveness of this purely charitable stance in business.

Why philanthropy is more important than ever

As the coronavirus costs lives and destroys livelihoods, there is an urgent need for generosity around the world

Not-for-profit organizations are known for their low talent retention and high executive turnover rates, and are often viewed as detours related to an individual’s career path rather than an ultimate goal. Those who work and run nonprofits are often underpaid, overworked, and have minimal upward mobility. Simply put, these organizations do not provide attractive or viable sources of income for employees, causing even passionate employees to leave the nonprofit in search of more sustainable employment opportunities. As a result, nonprofits often reach far below their potential.

But what about those on the other side of the metaphorical divide? Companies with philanthropic interests, with their vast talent pools and resources, have the ability to bring about significant social change. However, this is rarely done. After all, a business is focused on making money, not community impact. Additionally, corporate philanthropic endeavors are often limited in scope and designed to look good rather than good. The ultimate goal of a company is to make a profit, and corporate social responsibility is only one aspect of that overarching mission.

The dividing line between corporations and philanthropic interests doesn’t have to be as tight as it is. Rather, a social entrepreneur is a creative innovator with the ability and resources to identify a marginalized population and create a reproducible business opportunity that will help members of the struggling group create a new, more durable social balance.

We won’t find answers to our social dilemmas by asking for more nonprofits or asking companies for more money. Their structures are simply not built to meet our needs in a sustainable way. Instead, we must encourage our young leaders to engage in social entrepreneurship that aims to have a missionary impact without its leaders having to sacrifice their careers or compensation.

Hanane Benkhallouk, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sustain Leadership