Many organizational scholars have debated their visions of the near infinite points on the Social Enterprise continuum of organizational impetus. The increasing global fascination with “Social Enterprise” has spurred thousands of organizations (profits, non-profits, and civic) to self-identify their motives and methods to be in balance at the top of “Mount Social Enterprise”.
The deeper I reflect on this idea of countless types of organizational will, the stronger my rejection of this dogma of multitudes. I believe there are just 5 base camps on this mountain, where an organization can “live.”
- A mission driven organization that is largely externally funded.
- A mission driven organization with some internal revenue generation.
- A true Social Enterprise where the primacy of the mission is social change, while sustaining the organization through market-based practices.
- An organization that places profit as its driving principle, but demonstrates some degree of social awareness and/or responsibility.
- An organization that focuses nearly 100% of its resources and efforts to generate income for ownership with little to no social programs.
Yes, an organization can be redesigning itself at any moment in time and thus be perched on any of the slippery slopes, but there are no “almost there” places on this peak. If your organization is not fully self-aware of which of the 5 bases you currently exist at, then you will eventually slide.
Now, let me stress that no place on this metaphorically mountain is “better” than any other location. As you can see in the graphic, each figure (representing an organization) has a smile on their face and arms raised in joyful exuberance to be where they are.
Some points to ponder while viewing the imagery:
- Notice the western slope (left) is not as steep as the eastern slope. The climb to Social Enterprise is more difficult for your traditional for-profit, as it requires a fundamental shift in the minds of the leadership. Where the organizations that choose to climb the western slope have a less daunting challenge: modifying their method of operation. The aforementioned groups have to address the “why” and the later groups the “how”.
- Notice the profit oriented/socially aware and engaged ledge is wider than the rest. Although the degree of social commitment can vary, the majority of organizations make their home here.
- Notice the tension at the peak and the narrowness of the summit. This illustrates the constant struggles that occur in the pure Social Enterprise. The tug-of-war is intentionally tilted toward the west.So, when push-comes-to-shove in a Social Enterprise social mission tips the scale.
Reaching the summit of this mountain is not for every organization, nor should it be. For the ones that take the chance and pack up base camp, prepare for a difficult journey. And remember, there is no “almost there”…you have to plant your flag in the mist of uncertainty, above the clouds, to be a true social enterprise.