Social Enterprise: The New Center?
In 1919, just after the First World War ended, a little less than a century ago, the Irish poet WB Yeats wrote his celebrated poem The Second Coming, in which he predicted:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand…
The European Economic network seems to be fragmenting –some Euro economies are strong, but "the center cannot hold" (in Yeats’s phrase) indefinitely, while the weaker brethren need more and more bailouts. Maybe the global economy is falling apart along with it, and in this event we may want to discuss whether social enterprise may be the new "centre" (I will use Yeats’s own Anglophile spelling on this one) that somehow managed to hold together a system that is in serious disarray, precisely because it is the place where our positive "convictions" find enough "passionate intensity" to make a difference.
Capitalism, some have argued, is the problem – or is it? Or is the problem that we now have a mutated version of capitalism (call it crony capitalism for short, we can get into details later), a version that is corrupting and distorting the virtues of free markets? Is capitalism still the solution, but a socially-conscious capitalism the direction we should be going in?
Others point out that the alternatives we have tried so far haven’t done any better that capitalism, and in some cases may well have done far worse. The Russian experiment failed, the Chinese experiment is mutating towards an indigenous form of capitalism – and liberal-social Europe isn’t the poster-child for success many were hoping…
Neither of the two main rival systems of the late twentieth century seems to have the right "fuel" for the continuing growth and flourishing of the human race – and I suspect social entrepreneurship may be what’s emerging to bridge the gap.
If capitalism is the "competitive" version of economics, then, and socialism/communism the "cooperative" version (and I know that’s a pretty simplistic formulation, but it would take a book to expand on it properly), maybe what we need is an economics at the intersection of competitive and cooperative, a new way of doing business that’s individually, socially and environmentally responsible, competes for development, collaborates for success.
And isn’t that the niche that social entrepreneurs inhabit? In the US, in Europe – and in China, too?
I’d like to take this discussion a couple of steps further.
- Does economics itself need to change?
- How would we get the "crony" out of "crony capitalism" and leave the capitalism intact?
- How do we make the shift global?
- How do we keep it globally sustainable –with no humans – no ecosystem – left behind?
- How do we keep the shift local?
- How do we keep it locally sustainable –with no humans – no ecosystem – left behind?
- Are there feedback loops that may bring the whole system down?
- What potential tipping points do we need to address?
- How do we proceed slowly enough to keep all participants on board?
- How do we proceed fast enough to keep all contingencies at bay?
I realize this is a huge set of questions, but I think we are facing a huge, a monumental shift in thinking:
- economically, as we factor the whole human rather than the "rational actor" into our models
- entrepreneurially, as we move increasingly to a triple bottom line
- socially, as we weave social networks that are mediated by and transcend the internet
- creatively, as we move into the territories of sustainability and a new paradigm, and
- collectively, as travel and net connections gradually make global citizens of us all, with global concerns and reach…
- What are your thoughts on all this?
- What do you fear, and what do you hope for in all this?
- What are you doing about all this?
- What is your organization doing?
Please join Charles (hipbone) Cameron in the conversation as we explore these pressing questions of the day.