[This article was published in “The SocEnter” by the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship of Santa Clara University — home of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI). You can find the original, along with accompanying photos, here.]
“The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Leading thinkers and doers throughout history, including Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker have been attributed to articulating a version of this quote. And, it makes sense. The sentiment is as empowering as it is commanding. It is a call to attention, and a call to action.
Moreover, within its wisdoms, we can begin to see a remarkable future for the intersection of impact and business, i.e., a future of social entrepreneurship.
A Place for Social Entrepreneurs to Stand, and to Grow
Global institutions such as Ashoka, Groupe SOS, Skoll World Forum, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), Sankalp Forum, and Santa Clara University’s own Miller Center and Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) have spent much of the last decades defining, supporting, and nurturing the emerging space for social entrepreneurship. In the light of their efforts, today we have not only a space for social entrepreneurs to stand, but ecosystems in which they can build, grow, and share.
This expanding infrastructure for social entrepreneurial problem solvers couldn’t be maturing at a more pivotal time. The world’s greatest challenges are before us, robed in layers of complexity and weighing heavy from socio-economic-geo-historical context. The magnitude of these challenges in many ways is becoming more apparent through knowledge-sharing, more accurate measurement, and easier ways to communicate.
The Urgent Need for Creative Problem-solving
On the horizon, we see a population quickly approaching a record eight billion people. With an expanding population, food and clean water security are immediate concerns, not to mention education and housing. Climate change, which has been recognized as a global concern by institutions ranging from the EPA to the Papacy, threatens with extreme weather patterns as well as a rise in sea level and impact on existing species. Wealth inequity has a new definition as half of the world’s wealth is now owned by less than 1% of the global population, and we live in a time in which nearly 3 billion struggle to survive on less than $2 a day.
Luckily, the story doesn’t end here. We are empowered to predict our future, by creating it.
A Shift in Consciousness
We also live in a moment when we have ready problem solvers and incredible advances in technology that let us imagine impact not in magnitudes of hundreds of lives improved, but in magnitudes of billions.
We are in a moment in which our workforce is changing, and so are their values. 2015 marked the first time that millennials comprise a majority of the workforce. By 2025, that number will be closer to 75%. Why does it matter? It matters because when asked, 90% of millennials express their desire to use their skills for good—they, more than any preceding generation, have prioritized creating impact in their equation for a life well-lived.
This ethos doesn’t just impact the workforce, but also informs how and what individuals buy and the kinds of companies they launch and scale. As of 2015, over 30 states or jurisdictions have passed some form of social enterprise legal structure. Additionally, two companies (Rally Software and Etsy) that have aligned with the social enterprise movement through pursuing a “B corporation” certification have had an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Another popular US-based brand TOMS–with its simplified business + impact model of “one for one” (i.e., one donation for every purchase), has raised significant funding and some say is on track to become the first US billion dollar social enterprise.
The Future of Business
As we stand on the precipice of major shifts in how we view the future of business, we can see these divergent but complementary forces: The pressing issues that affect our generation and most definitely will affect future generations; and the intelligent, engaged, motivated army of problem solvers ready to do something about it.
And while the evolution of social entrepreneurship to this point has seen the carving out of a new kind of business and a vocabulary to define terms in this emerging space—the urgent need for leadership and innovation has the potential to be met by the most driven, largest, and most cross-functional social innovators we have known.
There is the potential to work beyond subsects of entrepreneurship and focus on redefining the future of business as a whole, to consider impact as a norm. There is the possibility of broadening the reach of social entrepreneurship by absorbing its core attributes into the character of business itself. Instead of being ‘social entrepreneurship’, the values of measuring, reporting, and expanding impact could become part of the way we understand, assess, and measure the success of industries across the board.
Telling Impactful Stories
Telling these stories of innovation, entrepreneurship, and impact and simplifying the ways people and companies can create social impact has been part of my life’s work and the work of Innov8social. It has enabled collaboration with amazing and inspiring institutions such as Santa Clara University and the GSBI, where we have interviewed Thane Kreiner, Executive Director of the Miller Center for an episode of our weekly podcast, and will be publishing a recent interview with Pamela Roussos, Senior Director of the GSBI, experienced mentor, and co-author of the recently published GSBI Methodology.
Story-sharing over the years has progressed to storytelling as a way to inform and inspire emerging and future social entrepreneurs. The upcoming book 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship uses the lens of storytelling to introduce key aspects of starting a social enterprise such as legal structure, business model, and impact measurement through following three characters with diverse backgrounds as they explore launching a mission-driven startup of their own.
The Future of Social Entrepreneurship…Inevitable?
Social entrepreneurship continues to provide a unique way through which to see the world’s most pressing problems as opportunities to think and do better, problem-solve creatively, and reach out and share stories of possibility and potential.
Those who have been in the field have planted the seeds of the growing ecosystem in which the possibility of redefining business to include social impact is not impossible, or improbable, but as Christopher Reeve famously said, “when we summon the will, is inevitable.”