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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Social Enterprise Summit and World Forum: why you should attend

Post originally published here.

After my earlier post about the Social Enterprise Summit and World Forum coming up April 28-30 2010, I have had an opportunity to talk to Bill Strathmann, who is the CEO of Network for Good, and also Vice Chair at the Social Enterprise Alliance. Here are my impressions on the summit after that discussion:

1. The Social Enterprise Alliance has a very narrow definition of what a Social Entreprise is. They define it on their website as "an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods". So we are looking at businesses with a very specific focus on resolving social issues, and located somewhere in the middle of the "do-good" spectrum between corporations involved in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on one side, and non-profits on the other. BUT don't feel excluded, please keep reading...

2. Despite this narrow definition, I believe that the summit should be of interest to a wide audience:
- because, on the down side, the reality is that the problems that we face today around the world are too big to be fixed by just relying on Social Enterprises to do the right thing while everybody else keeps doing business as usual
- and because on the up side, the ideas that are coming out of Social Enterprises, and the best practices that can be identified from the existing implementations, can be very useful to corporations trying to get into creative capitalism, and to non-profit trying to evolve towards a more sustainable model of doing business than relying on grants.
So really everybody should come to engage.

The summit is set to deliver a lot of great content to enable real change, because beyond the various tracks offering knowledge sharing and discussions on best practices for social entrepreneurs or would-be social entrepreneurs, it is opening the doors to a larger discussion. The title of this summit is "New Approach, New Economy" and it is bringing up important questions, and prospective from key stakeholders:
- the first plenary session takes a look at what governments are trying to do to help social enterprises, with representatives from Canada, UK and US governments.
- the second plenary session gets into "how to think different", with a look at system thinking
- and the summit offers opportunities for side discussions through the "Dine around" program and through tours of local social enterprises, great opportunities to mix and brainstorm on the next best thing.

With this great content and these key stakholders, and in order to get the perfect mix, who should come?:
- corporations currently involved in CSR and interested in creative capitalism should send people at this conference, so that they can identify opportunities to serve markets that they have ignored so far. The creation of Grameen-Danone Foods is a great example of what can be done by corporations when they open their mind to such new opportunities.
- non-profits should come to learn how it is possible to introduce new revenue streams into their programs so that the people they help can be engaged better and longer, and so that they can become more sustainable by relying less on grants and more on a solid business model. According to Bill Strathmann the message from the Social Enterprise Alliance to Foundations is that they should consider spending more grant money on financing the creation and/or growth of social enterprises rather than on financing spending programs that require new grants year after year. And I agree that they should.
- and of course all entrepreneurs should be involved, because business is social and entrepreneurs achievements emerge from the ecosystem that they were able to build around themselves.

Ultimately the success (from my prospective) of the social enterprise movement will be when we can get rid of the word "social enterprise" because we will have learn to do business the right way, maximizing the returns for all the stakeholders rather than maximizing the returns for the stockholders. This is the culture that Entrepreneur Commons (my own social enterprise dedicated to helping you the entrepreneur) is nurturing, and I look forward to attending this summit, to learn more what can be done and how.