Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote the best line I’ve read in a while, “It would, in fact, be more rational to just go and work for a social enterprise than start one.” Simple and true. And problematic.

In his September 18th post, Craig describes his decision to go private business vs. CIC in opening his latest venture in the UK. His decision to go private business is worthy of discussion as we continue to figure out how to make social enterprise and social finance work in Canada. (There’s irony in his choice.)

Even with strides made among policy and financial conversations here and abroad, Dearden-Phillips hits on the heart of the matter – there’s still a lack of reward in setting up a social enterprise, as compared to a business.

Some will argue that they (as social entrepreneurs) are not in it for the money, just as non-profit professionals have argued for years. But that stance doesn’t translate as well to something we are calling ‘enterprise’ and to folks we are labelling ‘entrepreneurs’. There is inherently a bias towards making some amount of revenue with these two words.

Dearden-Phillips calls for a reality check within the conversations around social enterprise and funding to say “we need to embrace all motivations” for starting these types of enterprises. Purists might argue that embracing all motivations threatens to dilute or discredit the underlying missions of “social” enterprises, but I’d offer that we’re not to that point yet.

The social enterprises that exist today are innovative examples of what can be created. And yet, the sector only has a handful of success stories – many taking ten or more years to build. Reading the biographies of the founders, there is much in regards to lifestyle or circumstance that may not appeal to the average entrepreneur – or would-be entrepreneur.

If we have not already, we’ll need to expand beyond the mentalities of 1) I made enough at my high paying profession to last me a few years and/or 2) I just want to do good and don’t care about money. In other words, the current rewards for starting a social enterprise are not sufficient.

For the movement to grow and to sustain, we’re going to need some larger levels of trial and error. We’re going to need to make it more enticing for entrepreneurs to throw their hats into the social enterprise space. In short, the level of reward to risk is going to have to improve.

Not everyone will agree, but if we try to predefine the movement before it’s built, we will have stifled the field rather than expanded it. And really, what we want to do is make it appealing and practical for entrepreneurs to have options.

This way, the rest of us will have jobs.

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