The Real People of Social Enterprise
It is easy to overthink social enterprise and get caught up in the debates on definition, models, outcomes and a variety of other related topics. Like all entrepreneurial endeavours though, we sometimes need to take a leap of faith.
The discussion on the less tangible parts of social enterprise matter greatly, especially within the specific context of your work. What may matter even more, though, is the people that are currently making social enterprise happen in your area. This includes founders and forward- thinking leaders, but it also includes the employees of a social enterprise, beneficiaries and other community partners too.
There is a tremendous amount of work being done by these stakeholders. We can perhaps learn the most by talking to and listening closely to them as they detail their lived experience with social enterprise. Rather than running into the obstacles of definition or predictability, interested social entrepreneurs can embrace the unknown. At this stage in the development of social enterprise as a sector, this unknown can be clarified by speaking to those that are “doing” the work or connected to it in some way.
There is a growing body of literature on social enterprise and, while there is a lot of overlap in content, there is also a variety of opinions and options. This is a good thing and should spur social entrepreneurs into a active experimentation mode.
Individual social entrepreneurs may be more likely to jump in and see what works for them, while established organizations that are testing the waters of social enterprise may be a bit more hesitant. After all, established organizations, such as non-profits, are used to taking specific information to their boards and demonstrating how a project aligns with their mandate. This may be difficult when it comes to social enterprise projects, but organizations can take another approach. By crafting a narrative through discussions with other stakeholders in existing social enterprises, a compelling story can be told about what has work, how it worked, and why it was done elsewhere.
At its core, social enterprise is about human services and positive social impact. These aspects may be difficult to measure or predict, but they can also create very compelling and true-to-life stories that highlight the real people and tangible outcomes of social enterprise work.
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