Is the “Social” In Social Enterprise Redundant?

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    Do we still need a “social” enterprise sector? Many businesses have “social impact” at least with their customers. And these customers around the world are demanding greater accountability and environmental sensitivity.

    Here’s what a reader to this blog wrote last week. “The underlying distinction made between social and business enterprise is thin,” noted Ashim Kumar Chatterjee. “All businesses have to serve some social need to be able to last. I would be inclined to believe that there is a direct relationship between the business of a business enterprise and social needs. So long as the deliverables of the business remain socially relevant, the business will survive and sustain itself. The entire gamut of eco-friendly products and technologies are a case in point.”

    Several people who work in the business sector made similar points to me last week at the SEA Summit + World Forum in San Francisco. These are folks who share the goals of the social enterprise movement but don’t use that term in their work. For at least some of their investors and customers, “social” comes across as uncompetitive, higher priced, inefficient.

    So should we call the whole thing off?

    I don’t think so. We have a long ways to go before all or even most businesses incorporate public impact into their business decisions. Think BP. And the nonprofit sector has just as long an entrepreneurial row to hoe to have social impact given the challenging philanthropic realities of the 21st Century. I think social enterprise is still a powerful term that helps organize our thinking (and ourselves) as we set out to “harness the power of the marketplace to solve critical social or environmental problems.”

    What do you think?