How sharing are your values?

In 2006, when I started to promote social enterprise in general the intention was to encourage open conversation without branding.  After creating the  Social Enterprise group on Facebook and theSocial Business group on Linkedin that remains my intention.   It’s not just about us   our brand or even out beneficiaries.  Perhaps I’m being naive.

The last sentence on our white paper which described the concept of business for social purpose says this:

“It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day”.

In a  conversation last week. John Elkington was making the point that sustainability should not be confined to history by Creating Shared Value.

One point he’d made after returning from a conference about it,  was of great interest.  The assertion that the ‘magic’ of capitalism was the ability to create money from nothing.

As I commented on John’s blog, the same “magic” was the central criticism in P-CEDs treatise – that money imagined into existence as debt had led to wealth being concentrated in the hands of fewer people, to the detriment of those in greatest need. “Dismissing people and consciously leaving them to die is probably not the way to go”, it said.

I don’t engage in these discussions out of intellectual curiosity.  The central focus of our efforts are those already brushed aside – thousands of vulnerable children and the colleague whose life was lost while trying to help them.

The following article by Mark Kramer was a response to John Elkington’s concerns.  I took the opportunity to ask Mark whether his suggestion that business could profit from solving social problems might be seen another way, in that profit could be invested n solving social problems.

The example I offered was the growing advocacy that Every Child Deserves a Family and I quoted from our strategy paper that had reasoned for an alternative to capitalism where business could invest in a broad range of social objectives, childcare reform in particular.

That seems to have been most unwelcome as a question. Not only was my response removed but also the response which was among those that John Elkington had already expressed his appreciation for.

As some may observe, there’s a striking degree of similarity between what P-CED practices and what Creating Shared Value advocates as theory, albeit with a lesser emphasis on the vulnerable.

Might it be that one derives from the other?

The next blog in line is from Sustainable Business editor Jo Confino, who also seems remarkably close to what we’d published several years ago when he asks whether business needs to re-connect with society.  No comments are allowed on this one.

Again, it’s familiar territory, referring to something published 4 years ago on our website:

“The corporations involved in this almost fantastical deployment of the machines and communications infrastructure that we now rely on profited for themselves and their shareholders, and certainly produced social and economic benefit around the world.  Those efforts were and are so profound in influence as to transform human civilization itself.  That is the Information Revolution, and it is nothing short of astonishing.

So it is safe to say that all these players in the Information Revolution — the enterprises that created it — have engendered almost immeasurable social benefit by way of connecting people of the world together and giving us opportunity to communicate with each other, begin to understand each other, and if we want, try to help each other.

It is that last phrase — “try to help each other” — which is what the phrase “social enterprise” is getting at.  As Bill Gates said in 2000, “poor people don’t need computers.” and rejected a business approach to alleviating poverty.  That statement served to mark the clear distinction between what traditional capitalism did and did not do.  Gates’ aim at that time was to profit from people who could afford his company’s products, while those who couldn’t were largely or completely ignored.  That has been the accepted limit of traditional capitalism.  It has been a marvelous means of social benefit and economic advancement for many people.  Nevertheless, those excluded are just left out.

The term “social enterprise” in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don’t address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven’t enough money to be of concern or interest.  Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks.  Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people.  Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us.  Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.”  Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest.  Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not”

Dying alone in a room,  away from home and family members, where there is little in the way of medical assistance  for an American without health insurance must have been as lonely as it gets.   Yet the vision to place children in family homes was his last spoken desire.

Whatever the ethics of re-branding works of those ‘ignored to death’,  it’s clear that we won’t make any progress while jounalism is about stifling the voices of those who determine to ‘be the change’ in favour  of those who are ‘going to’ change the world.  Typically corporate leaders who would find the real thing way out of their comfort zone.

As we can see from some of David Floyd’s recent blogs, more and more are expressing concern at the lack of progress  being made by social enterprise.  Building reputation at the expense of the others’ lives,  is clearly not going to move us forward.

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