|Engineering an ecosystem to amplify social enterprise|
|by David LePage. Kelly Ramirez and Suzanne N. Smith|
|on March 04, 2013|
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Although we may have many varying definitions of social enterprise around the world, they all share a basic purpose: to operate a business that creates a blended-value outcome. They seek both financial success and social impact. It’s a business venture addressing a social, cultural or environmental issue!
If we can begin by agreeing on that basic premise, and if we can agree that social enterprises are created to contribute to healthy local economies and communities, then we should be able to agree that social enterprise is not just about the object, it’s about the activity it generates. It’s all about the impact; it’s viewing social enterprise as a means. It’s a verb not a noun!
Just like any other system, in order to amplify the impact of social enterprise we need to engineer and create a nourishing and encouraging environment; social enterprise needs a supportive ecosystem.
The success of the traditional private sector business model and the traditional non-profit/charity model has come about because of a myriad of services, resources and policies supporting their development and success. For example, there is the Small Business Act in US, and in Canada there are services like Small Business BC. Financing is dominated by private sector economic ROI, government provides tax credits, campuses offer commerce and MBA programs, and the stock markets exist purely for investors based on financial return on investment. For non-profits, their supporting ecosystem includes specific charity law, tax credits for donations, various non-profit corporate models, training opportunities, and many other infrastructure elements in their arena. Both sectors, for-profit and non-profit, in fact, have an entire ecosystem of support.
Full spectrum of supports needed for social enterprise
These two traditional sectors’ ecosystems are designed to provide a full spectrum of supports to help them through the process of planning, launch, and growth. Their accomplishments are a testament to the need and the power of the multiple components of an infrastructure that supports them. But there still remain many unresolved and growing economic, social and cultural problems. We believe social enterprise, with appropriate development supports, effective policies and a community of practice can successfully complement the for-profit and non-profit sectors and further our efforts to address many of these complex challenges.
This emerging blended-value social enterprise sector, somehow integrating the purely mission focus of non-profits and the purely financial model of business, is beginning to define and construct, to engineer, its own particular system of support for its development, growth and success – the social enterprise ecosystem!
Learning from the other sectors, as well as realizing our different realities and goals, social enterprise initiatives and discussions have identified a five-part model of support: increase business acumen; provide access to capital; enhance market opportunities; demonstrate impact; and build an engaged community. All of these "pieces" must be integrated, and must have an engaged multi-sector process of effective policy and practices, and must encompass and comprehend the unique blended-value proposition.
The Social Enterprise Ecosystem
The components may seem to be separate pieces, but they have to be understood as part of a system, a living, integrated ecosystem. The author and physicist Fritjof Capra has stated it so well in all of his work on ecosystems: "This is not a model based on the individual parts, but it is a system, it is a series of relationships."