Martin and Osberg in Stanford Social Innovation Review offer an interesting definition of "social entrepreneurship":
We define social entrepreneurship as having the following three components: (1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own; (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude, thereby challenging the stable state’s hegemony; and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.
Query: Are there socially conservative "social entrepreneurs," and if so, does the definition above exclude them? "Unjust equilibrium," "challenging the stable state's hegemony," "the targetted group," all sound like Rawlsian liberalism to me. Surely, though a social entrprenenur might take free markets, or unbridled capitalism - whatever the final dispersion of wealth - to be the Summum Bonum, the highest good conceivable by the modern day Dunce.
I would say a "social entrepreneur" is a dead metaphor. We will not revive our society until our best and brightest write better. The prose above is that of two good souls who have read too much MBA stuff and too little literature, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, myth, folklore, or even good joke books. The provenance of the prose is B-School. Wisdom literature it is not.
Assignment: Read Carlyle's "Heroes and Hero Worship," then rewrite Osberg and Martin in Carlyle's vein. See what a difference style makes. Here is the opening of the Carlyle:
We have undertaken to discourse here for a little on Great Men, their manner of appearance in our world's business, how they have shaped themselves in the world's history, what ideas men formed of them, what work they did;--on Heroes, namely, and on their reception and performance; what I call Hero-worship and the Heroic in human affairs.
How can we, as capitalism consumes itself, still draw our hero myths - those of the Romantic Entrepreneur, the Napoleon of Creative Destruction, the Savior - from business? Entrepreneurs are fine. But they are not the only crazy people worth fawning upon.
How about me?
Wow. I really had to work hard to try to understand what those Stanford guys were talking about. Don't they teach plaine English there? Your comment is on the mark.
We do need heros who demonstrate leadership by their actions, not by the books they write, or the celebrity status they achive. It's not a question of liberal or conservative to me.
It's good deeds repeated overtime that make people heros.
Posted by: Dan Bassill | March 22, 2007 at 06:07 PM
Martin and Osberg's lullaby to elites, at best, clears the table for more neologistic bending.
We'll distribute Occam as a style guide ... lex parsimoniae.
P.S. Good work!
Posted by: VSEF | March 22, 2007 at 06:49 PM
I was being a jerk, using my Diogenes persona as a poor excuse. But your comment, VSEF, is delightful - "neoligistic bending" is a great phrase.
Posted by: Phil | March 23, 2007 at 08:24 AM
Dan, a style guide, or prevailing style, is much more important than the particular essay. What purposes are served, and what purposes are not able to be served, within the business prose of SSIR? Could one write a piece about spiritual awakening, drawing on Blake, in that style? Could the writer draw on Ranciere, the French political theorist, or write a nice paragraph of satire? Even though Osberg and Martin's definition is all about justice, the style is unable to express either passionate ideals or indignation. The style and the goals of the piece seem at odds. If we want heros to uplift us and organize us to rectify economic injustice, can they do that in such abstract school-book prose? What if Martin Luther King (who, I guess, would be a social entrepreneur by the definition in the essay) wrote like that? Would he have had any effect? Oratory. What kinds of oratory are permissible in SSIR? And does the genre lend itself to change from the grassroots up, or does it implicitly assume that change, though instigated by Entrepreneurs, will be managed by MBAs? What kind of social change would that be?
Posted by: Phil | March 23, 2007 at 08:33 AM
Here's our take on it too....
Posted by: Nick T | March 23, 2007 at 12:01 PM
Thanks, Nick. Blogged your piece.
Posted by: Phil | March 23, 2007 at 08:55 PM
I had a similar take to all of yours, though i think i got out with my neologisms unbent, somehow. if there is value created by this approach it's for a small group of funders who can evaluate the impacts of their investments by a common criteria. whether that metric delivers any value to the social entrepreneur, or the mission being served, or is rather, a large transaction cost without additive value is a hard call. it is a piece that is myopic in that it does not realize that the impact of imposing abstract theories on a highly creative process may actually work against what they want to see in the world.
many people in power are blind to the difference between their intent and their impact.
Posted by: Kevin Jones | March 26, 2007 at 01:42 PM
I glanced through the article again, and noted it was written by authors associated with Skoll Foundation. It looks like the intent is to say, "Sure, the world is full of heroes; there are political leaders, spiritual leaders, great donors, but what about our boss, Mr. Skoll and his former partner, Mr. Omidyar, why are they not exalted as world-changing heroes for their methods and madness?" OK. My boss is great too. And the world would be a better place if he gave me a fat raise. Ah, me. There is no greater force for the good than self-seeking with a double bottom line. Yet, who serve the King best? His courtiers or his Fool?
Posted by: Phil | March 27, 2007 at 08:55 AM