I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the growing number of conferences on the topic of Social Enterprise. For those unfamiliar with the expression, “social enterprise” is the term now used to describe the hybrid organizations that blur the lines between for-profit business and nonprofits. While these hybrids have been emerging over the past few years, in some ways, they represent a return to the past.
Easily forgotten in the headlines about $20M paychecks and $30M bonuses is the fact that the first corporate charters were granted only to companies that could demonstrate that their products or services were serving a public need or providing a public good. Somewhere along the way the social purpose aspect of corporations was overshadowed by sentiments such as those of Milton Friedman, that the sole responsibility of corporations is to make money. That sentiment became the accepted corporate ethos.
That is why it was so heartening to see so many young entrepreneurs at that sold-out conference. Coming from both the executive and board level, all were determined to make a difference with their newly formed organizations.
In the aftermath of the economic recession, it is encouraging to see so many new ideas and optimism that society’s most intractable problems can be solved through a combination of new financial instruments, strategic philanthropy, technology, and social media. New types of organizations with new approaches require new skills and structures at the board level too, in order to govern effectively — as well as convenings of talented and motivated individuals who can inspire and inform us in this work.