Rethinking what is small but has the capacity to grow (From the series, “Child’s Play”, intaglio print by Sally Reed)
This post is a response to an excellent blog post by Nathaniel Whittemore entitled The Leading Edge of a Generation’s Aspiration. Whittemore is an eloquent writer and leading advocate for social entrepreneurship at Change.org, a favorite site that all should join and/or support.
His post leads off with this point:
Recently, social venture capitalist Josh Cohen and Taproot Foundation founder Aaron Hurst (two guys who I deeply respect) advanced the argument that the framework of social entrepreneurship is inadequate to help the Millennial generation achieve their aspirations of careers of meaning and purpose. While there is a lot they’re right about, I believe they fail to recognize the full potential of social entrepreneurship as the leading edge of this generation’s aspiration.
The same day Whittemore’s post crossed my desk, the following statistic from Harvard Business Review’s The Daily Stat also came through on my Twitter feed:
17% of Harvard’s Class of 2010 applied to Teach for America, the highest percentage of any graduating college class in the United States this year. Harvard also accounted for the largest percentage of last year’s hires by the 19-year-old nonprofit network, which places graduates in troubled schools. 16% of Yale’s grads and 13% of Brown’s applied to TFA this year, according to the The Harvard Crimson.
While this statistic is a remarkably succinct measure of Millennial aspirations, it also reinforces the inadequacy of social entrepreneurship. In an earlier post I argued that the global companies that failed to scale Teach for America each made the largest strategic branding error in their company’s history. I believe it is reasonable to make the argument that if just a few of those corporations had stepped up at the beginning, Teach for America would now be able to absorb 2-3 times as many candidates from the Class of 2010.
In other words, adequacy of the sector going forward may depend on the willingness of companies to scale social enterprises. ReachScale’s founding advocacy has been that social enterprise scaling should be a significant part of a corporation’s marketing and philanthropy budgets, the former being orders of magnitude more important (and more robust) than the latter. Currently the corporate marketing component has not been a player with the exception of Pepsi’s recent $20 million Superbowl Pepsi Refresh throw down. (Earlier posts discussing the Pepsi Refresh Project here and here.)
My remaining comments overlay the numbered points laid out in Whittemore’s post. (This will be more meaningful if you have read The Leading Edge of a Generation’s Aspiration before continuing, although the points make sense on their own. The numbered items are from Whittemore’s post, but the comments that follow are mine.)
1. Social Entrepreneurship is not the dominant paradigm for thinking about social change among Millennials…. most people have their gateway experiences with social change through volunteerism and civic engagement.
A social enterprise that is ready to scale and capable of being a big aspiration absorber will start with a proven impact model and then add value platforms like attractive volunteerism, advocacy/civic engagement and ecosystem growth models. Gateway experiences are nice, but to employ significant numbers you need to look like a Habitat for Humanity rather than the local homeless shelter. In the social enterprise start-up inventory right now, there are future Habitat for Humanity and Teach for America type opportunities. Capacity growth will depend on innovative scaling of multiple multi-platform organizations in each cause sector.
2. Even at business schools, social entrepreneurship isn’t the only game in town for the world-changers.
3. Social entrepreneurship isn’t just for the entrepreneurs.
True. But the more critical issue here is not whether enough social entrepreneurs surface from universities and business schools but how SE ecosystem will be able to identify and market the real innovators (in many cases the drop-outs, not the grads) and match them with scaling partners/funders.
Each year tens of thousands of impact models are tested by foundations and donors. The challenge is picking the best of the best and funneling resources to them while the rest plod forward doing good on a small scale. These critical mass, for-profit, breakeven and nonprofit continuous growth enterprises are where the being-paid-what-you-are-worth, non-entrepreneur social impact jobs will be.
4. Social entrepreneurship hasn’t nearly achieved a critical mass where we should talk about scaling back the excitement…..That means that we still have tons of experimenting to do with creative new business models and approaches to social change, and the biggest barriers there are constraints on resources for support.
Totally agree. However the “tons of experimenting” needs to add significant new classes of experiments.
Here are two examples:
- Non-profit SEs need to bring innovations and talent together to invest and create offerings that can achieve break-even or profitability. The goal is to become sustainable with little or no donor dollars at some point in the near future.
- Companies need to apply their business analysis and growth skills to pick the best of the best SEs that are aligned with their business interests, and then scale them. Ten years from now, companies will have social enterprise investment groups that look like their M&A groups look today.
5. The implications of “social entrepreneurship” go way beyond our cute little field.
Companies are investing billions in innovation. Corporate leaders are realizing that their innovation scope is way too narrow. The majority of real innovation activity is happening outside their purview and being led by the people they should have hired, the ones who went to work for Teach for America and never came back. Corporations should go where the talent and innovation are most active, significantly transforming this trillion dollar “cute little field”.