Social entrepreneurship - a term that has been driving me nuts. So, I decide to put things on notepad and attempt to get some clarity.
We had a chat here @IRMA with Mrs. Rohini Nilekani a few days back. She brought one very eye opening perspective of some entrepreneurs to the table - every entrepreneur creates jobs, gives an opportunity for livelihoods to at least a few people and because the enterprise is actually benefiting people, it is social. Very logical too. Then, how do we classify something as a social enterprise and something as just an enterprise. I guess the answer lies in the needs the enterprise is trying to address. Basic needs like food, water, good air, clothing and housing are not meant for any specific sector, they are the needs of every human around. And there are needs of niche segments,and when I say niche segments - it is not about an elitist class. Its niche because most of the people actually do not fall in that category.
In this context, social for me means - something relating to the majority of the population, not the niche. Something done in the niche segments is also social, but it is relatively less social. When we talk about enterprises or organizations working to address problems of education,water,sanitation,basic health, minimal housing - we are talking about organizations trying to meet the needs of a large section of our society. Its more apt that they are labelled social than those firms which are adding value to those people who
already have met their basic needs.
The above two paragraphs might be suggesting that something like mafia is also a social enterprise. This is where the motivation behind the organizations and the impact of the organizations come into picture. When we talk about being social, it is about respecting certain values in the society - honesty, integrity, ethics, it is about being able to maintain law and order, it is about doing something that doesn't have a negative effect on the very basic fabric, the very basic needs that the organization is trying to address. Of what use is a biological form without air, water and food. What use of electricity if there is no house to live in? And such values, such regulations one could say, are applicable to all organizations - because they are all a part of the society.
Most importantly, how stable is the argument? Do basic needs change? People might want to live on trees and wear nothing, but the need for clean air, water, edible food and health will still be intact. These needs are not relative. Do basic values change? Integrity,love,honesty. I think they are absolute too. Some years down the line, we might be successful in meeting the current set of basic needs only to make us take steps in addressing the next basic set of needs of a larger part of the population. That larger part
could be a niche segment today!
And finally, does this organization need to be self sustaining? For all I know, if one is skillful enough to run the firm through profits, let him do. If one has such great PR skills and well-off well wishers that he doesn't need to think about profits, that's great too. Different people bring different strengths to the table and whatever works, works.
I won't say I rest my case here, this is the best I could muster so far. Looking forward to your views now.