Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is It Social Entrepreneurship or Conscious Capitalism?

What business entrepreneurs are to the economy, social entrepreneurs are to social change. They are the driven, creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up, and remake the world for the better. ~ David Bornstein

In order to make money you have to serve other people – for me that’s the beauty of conscious capitalism. ~Fred Kofman

I recently spoke at a Fulbright Scholars Event on the topic of Social Entrepreneurship. It left me thinking for weeks about the topic and the direction we are moving as a society and as a world as it relates to business, philanthropy and where the two shall meet.

As I looked at the definitions of social entrepreneurship, I found:

  • an entrepreneur who engages in business seeking both financial and social return;
  • the art of persistently and creatively leveraging resources to capitalize upon marketplace opportunities in order to achieve sustainable social change;
  • any earned-income business or strategy undertaken by a nonprofit for the purpose of generating revenue in support of the nonprofit’s social mission; and
  • a social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to make social change;
  • Social enterprises are “more-than-profit.”

It left me lacking and wanting for more. So I looked into conscious business, conscious capitalism, creative capitalism and sustainable business:

  • Enterprise that has no negative impact on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy;
  • Business that has progressive environmental and human rights policies;
  • A business enterprise that seeks to be aware of the effects of its actions, and to consciously affect human beings and the environment in a beneficial way;
  • Conscious business has emerged from the theory of Corporate Social Responsibility, and is currently related to movements of Not Just For Profit Business Models, Conscious Consumerism, and Socially Responsible Investing - also referred to as “Conscious Capitalism”; and
  • Creative capitalism an approach where governments, businesses and nonprofits work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world’s inequities (Bill Gates).

As I saw these definitions, the questions started swarming in my head. Is there really a difference between social entrepreneurship and conscious capitalism? OR is there really a continuum between the two? Is it possible that these are slowly evolving and becoming one?

From what I can tell businesses are evolving towards more corporate social responsibility, conscious capitalism, cause marketing and incorporating triple bottom line into their corporate philosophies. From my perspective, those are the businesses that are thriving and succeeding in a down economy. These businesses understand that investing in the planet and people in addition to profit actually improves their bottom line – their profit.

On the flip side, successful nonprofits and social entrepreneurs are evolving their sustainability and organizational models by incorporating more expansive mechanisms for “revenues” beyond the traditional grants, gifts and donations. In order to evolve in a competitive market, increasing need and a down economy, nonprofits are required to evolve to stay alive. Isn’t that Darwin’s theory of evolution?

So I wonder in our next evolution, if we won’t just see a blending between social enterprise and conscious business, but also between the for-profit and nonprofit models? I know there are all types of legal ramifications of this, but if done in a smart way, why not? Is it really wrong to do good and make a profit (a discussion for another day)? Or to do good, make change and be of service to and transform traditional business principles in the process?

Could the next evolution be a hybrid of the two? If and as for profits understand the need to incorporate nonprofit principles into their businesses and the need for partnerships with nonprofits to succeed and thrive AND as non profits become seen less as the recipient of grants, but more of a provider of service to the planet, community AND businesses itself – wouldn’t the line of division slowly dissipate?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Food for thought for me for sure! It will be an interesting era to see as social media transforms not only the way we do business, but the way we GIVE & RECEIVE and perceive nonprofits and for profits, social entrepreneurs and conscious capitalists, and the continuum or boundaries between them!

What do you think?

You can also find me on Twitter @pilarstella.


  1. I think the philosophies of social entrepreneuership and conscious business are the same but the working models are different. Conscious businesses I've also heard described from spiritual perspective. So with so many buzz words out there, it's important to the field to define clearly what we mean by each. However, the grey-squishy area between the two...I am not sure it's strong enough to support a new hybrid model. As for a hybrid bwtn the np and conscious for-profit models...while philosphically they support and hold similar principles (the end good), my question would be what happens to the common marketplace w/a new model?

  2. Interesting post Pilar. It makes me wonder about the categorizations of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, as well. I find that many people are proponents of one or the other but not both. Those who talk of social enterprise are more interested in business models for change. Those who speak of social entrepreneurship insist on the centrality of the person, the leader, behind the venture. I wonder if there has to be such a deep line drawn in the sand between the two.

    Also, to address your other question about conscious capitalism, I've always associated conscious capitalism with initiatives put forth by corporations (akin to CSR, but more holistic, and less of a side show).

    Social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, tend to be used more often in relation to small and medium sized businesses.

    I do think that if the legal divisions between all of these entities were to blur, we would be better off.

    Lindsay Clinton

  3. Thanks for the interesting comments and posts. Yes, it is an interesting discussion. I am not sure I have answers for, just observing the trends and what is going on. I posted an article in my blog last week about hybrid models popping up - I am not sure what the hybrid would be or what it will become or how it will shift laws around for-profit/nonprofit boundaries, but it is an interesting trend to watch and be aware of. Lots of changes are going will be interesting to see where it all heads. As long as it moves in the direction of doing good and making change, I think it is all good!