Last June, I applied to take part in the six-month program offered by the Max Bell Foundation to educate nonprofit staff and volunteers on how to engage in public policy and advocacy. As part of the application, I needed to identify an “ask”. Coming from philanthropy, my ask was going to be around how we could encourage the government to provide more incentives for charitable giving and philanthropy.
As I started down the path, I realized that my “ask” didn’t push the needle far enough. In fact, I’d argue that we’re pretty lucky to have as many incentives to give as we do.
Instead of philanthropy, I set my sights on social enterprise. And over the six month course, I found myself immersed in the legal and regulatory frameworks of for-profits, non-profits and charitable organizations. Oddly, I loved this depth of information. My ask evolved into encouraging the Alberta government to create a regulatory structure for social enterprise.
Now, I can go WAY into details of the legal and regulatory merits and challenges of this idea. And I can tell you who is on side and who isn’t. I can even tell you about how Canadian federal/provincial dynamics might hinder my Utopian vision. I won’t right now. But you can see, I became entranced by the topic.
And now, happily, I can’t get out.
The crux of writing this blog was to say – social enterprise will take 360 degree thinking. There are folks, from all perspectives, who will tell you one thing or another. They will disagree with your definition of social enterprise. They will approach it from another vantage point. They will squint their eyes at your crazy notions of nonprofits making money.
For simplicity (and I like simplicity):
social enterprise is for-profit (or commercial) activity for community (society) benefit.
(I’m happy to have folks disagree with me.)
Regardless of what you know about social enterprise, the most exciting part is the journey of the thought process. No longer does our thinking live in for-profit / non-profit silos. No longer do we just “donate”. No longer can we point the finger and blame someone else – for the fact that social issues continue to persist.
Instead, social enterprise thinking takes 360 degrees. You need your financial mind, your MBA, your legal eagle, your engineer, your designer and (most important) your human service folks to say, “hey, great profit idea, crappy social intervention.” The 360 degrees is why it is so much fun. I would argue that the process might be more fun than the actual result.
In a nutshell, that’s how I came into the world of s.e. & why I persist in this space. You’ll hear lots of opinions – and increasingly so – on the merits and challenges of the idea. In the end, you’ll make your mind up for yourself.
And in the process, I challenge you to ask, “How will I contribute to this 360 degree thinking?”