Three Ingredients to Mainstream Social Enterprise

There’s a ton of buzz about social enterprise these days. Which thrills me: I believe that we can all do well by doing good. If you want to know more about why I believe, read my wonky manifesto below. But I’m also a do-er, so first, here are three ingredients required to mainstream social enterprise:

1. Hybrid skill sets
Social enterprise requires a blend of skills and perspectives. Effective social enterprises and their teams have to use best-in-class business practices, while also pursuing a mission. This hybrid approach requires analytical skills like market research, product design, and revenue modeling, as well as soft skills like empathy, vision, and dedication, qualifications that don’t co-exist in traditional roles.

2. Training, Recruitment, and Management
Cultivating this new mix of skills requires new structures. Traditional education and training programs prepare professionals for corporate or not-for-profit careers. Similarly, recruitment and management processes and personnel specialize on one side of the fence or the other. To grow the talent required to build social enterprises, we need formal and informal training opportunities to cultivate hybrid skill sets described above. Then recruitment and management processes need to catch up: identifying the right candidates, developing and rewarding them appropriately for creating a blend of financial and social value.

3. Investment
As for most change processes, this growth and maturation of the social enterprise sector investment requires investment. Many forms of capital are needed, from early, field-building philanthropic capital to impact investments with adjusted timelines and return expectations, and even commercial investment. Such funding will establish training programs; enable social enterprises to pay adequate salaries (Dan Pallotta explains this need here) and develop suitable talent; and facilitate action-focused research to inform the social enterprise ecosystem.

How can you contribute to these needs? What’s your place in the social enterprise ecosystem? It’s an exciting one, and it’s growing fast, so find your desired place and get yourself there now! Some ideas of where to start:

– Attend an event, like the Social Enterprise Alliance (4/13-16), for learning, networking, and training opportunities in social enterprise rich Nashville, or for a shorter commitment, hear Columbia Business School Professor Bruce Usher present his turnaround of E+Co, a solar investment firm (4/8)
– Do a pro bono project to see how your skills can fill a social enterprise’s needs
– Find your purpose with Imperative’s creative new online tool

And now, as promised: a wonky manifesto:

Our global system is failing us as humans. Governments are not efficient or innovative enough to address the challenges of our new world, which is characterized by interconnectivity, knowledge economies, and urbanizing populations. Businesses can no longer avoid the question of ‘sustainability,’ but few are practicing truly responsible corporate citizenship. The not-for-profit sector is growing faster than the public or private sector , but its outputs (social change) aren’t keeping pace with its inputs (cost).

In this context, we need a new formula to address major challenges that are emerging and growing domestically and abroad. Social enterprise, using business models and practices to create market-based solutions for social problems, is not a silver bullet, but an important part of that new formula. And existing, high-performing not-for-profits can lead the charge, if they take a social enterprise approach and use business principles to build scalable and sustainable solutions.
We’ve taken the first step of recognizing we have a problem, but there are still several missing ingredients required to expand social enterprise to become a real force for healing the world. Remember?

1. Hybrid Skill Sets
2. Training, Recruiting, and Management
3. Investment

Now get to work! Find your place in social enterprise, and take it!