Jyoti Sharma has written a thought-provoking blog in The Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled, “A Neoliberal Takeover of Social Entrepreneurship?“. Although I take issue with the the focus on neoliberalism as a destructive force, I agree with the importance of hybrid business models for social enterprises.
I have difficulty with terms like “neoliberalism”. It politicizes a conversation, using stereotypes and unexamined prejudices that polarize discussions. The term grates on me because it creates a too-convenient box to compartmentalize the “ills” without confronting the complexity behind the success and failure of social entrepreneurship.
I agree wholeheartedly that there are serious issues with social enterprise. It is a malleable term that is overused and misused. It risks becoming a dangerous panacea for nonprofits who are seeking alternative revenue streams. Supporters of social enterprises can underestimate the risks of managing the complexity of a double- or triple-bottom line business and underestimate the difficulty of generating sufficient revenue only from business activities.
Jyoti Sharma is correct is focusing on hybrid revenue streams for social enterprise being a powerful model. Let’s recognize the fact that many social enterprise business models need some grant funding in addition to revenue from business activities. There is added cost associated with achieving impact that competitors don’t contend with. For example, employment-focused social enterprises usually have higher people-costs associated with hiring those with barriers to employment.
Let’s recognize that social enterprise has an important part in creating impact but that it is only one arrow in a quiver, each arrow of which provides a different approach to the massive issues we confront. Collectively, the different approaches can make a difference.