“The greatest initial social and economic risk of the Information Age is in creating two distinctly different classes of people: the technological haves and have-nots. Those who have access to information and information technology have a reasonable expectation to survive and prosper. Those with limited or no access will be left out. This holds true for individuals as well as nations. The key to the future is access to free flow of information. To the extent that the free flow of information is restricted or diminished, people will be left to endure diminished prospects of prosperity and even survival.”
The above quote from our 1996 paper on an alternative to capitalism illustrates that the ability to connect with others and share knowledge has long been understood as an economic enabler. The influence is Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s book ‘Powershift : knowledge, wealth, and violence at the edge of the 21st century’, which was published in 1990.
Prior to the 2008 economic crisis, this was something which mainstream business often disregarded Why did they need to connect with their customers or share anything with them. They were doing fine, until now.
“The Social Enterprise” is the new kid on the block. It’s going to revolutionise the way we do business, through engaging sharing and creating, according to Salesforce.
Social Enterprise should be well understood by Huffington Post, whose founder, though seemingly not inclined toward much engaging, hosted a discussion on the subject for Social Edge.
In a recent Huffington Post article describing his new book, ‘No Straight Lines’, Alan Moore says:
“Its nature starts with the idea that enterprise is designed around what makes us human and our humanity. The social enterprise seeks greater mutuality, serves the collective good is, adaptive, flexible and redistributive of wealth and knowledge.”
He goes on to say:
“There is an alternative view of society that is built upon the collective participation of many individuals over the strong leadership of the few. We are saying a better world is created by what we share. So upgrading our world and our enterprises to a human centric OS (operating system) should be obvious to us all as this operating system offers us greater opportunity, freedom, empowerment, mutualism, diversity, efficiency, independence, and beauty. Yet there is great resistance to this logic as networked relations challenge the dominate logic of the organization.”
Compare that with the people-centric view, published online 15 years ago:
“We can actually engineer, very precisely and intentionally, a social system whereby human beings are not disposable, and then go about setting forward our social machinery with this requirement built-in as a part of our “social software”, as it were. Or, we can decide not to do it. Either way, a decision is made as to the fate of those who would be dispossessed, unwanted, and in the way.”
The paper ended:
“Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.”
Perhaps this is an example of a meme, or “idea virus”, albeit slightly altered to present a commercial point of view.
It wasn’t called social enterprise in 1996, but People-Centered Economic Development. We began to describe ourselves as a social enterprise from 2004, with our introduction to the UK, following proof of concept delivery in Russia.
There is a major distinction however, in this is not merely a socialised corporate form, but a business with a primary social goal, which distributes no dividend and invests surplus in social objectives. This is what we and many others mean by social enterprise.
Why call it the same thing as a widely accepted term, unless the intention is to obfuscate for commercial benefit?
It’s also in Huffington Post where Sue Goble describes ‘The Rise of the Social Enterprise‘ from the perspective of commercial CRM software.
With a background of more than 30 years in the software business, this recent interpretation of social enterprise is something we well understand. We see social enterprise however, as something with far greater impact.