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Social Entrepreneurship

Changing the Social Sector’s Policy Pitch

The social sector has utterly failed to create a compelling pitch to the political sector about what we do.

To really succeed, the social sector needs to communicate what we do to politicians in language that aligns to their goals. One Hill staffer told me, “Every time I hear ‘social entrepreneur,’ I think ‘paid volunteer.’”

We have utterly failed to create a compelling pitch to the political sector about what we do—and those we seek to serve are suffering for it. Our pitch, as it stands, is: “We’re good people, we do good things for the poor, and we save you money—support us.” That might get us some crumbs off the table, but no politician is going to chase after us.

But there is a powerhouse policy case to make, and it has to do with creating jobs.

In his excellent new book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” Enrico Moretti points out that innovative companies set up their businesses in cities with existing innovative talent pools, and that cities with college-educated residents have stronger local economies. He writes: “The presence of many college-educated residents changes the local economy in profound ways, affecting both the kinds of jobs available and the productivity of every worker who lives there, including the less skilled. This results in high wages not just for skilled workers but for most workers.”

Social entrepreneurs who launch programs and enterprises in high unemployment, high poverty areas have two powerful effects. First, they address a deep social need, which is crucial to the social sector, but frankly, less so to the political class. Second, entrepreneurs import other innovative people who can create the new communities needed to attract business investment. 

Social entrepreneurs can transform communities in ways crucial to the long-term success of those they serve—and they are working to do just that in two American cities with high unemployment rates.

Rishi Jaitly, former Google executive and founder of Michigan Corps and Kiva Detroit, currently leads investments for the Knight Foundation in Detroit. He says, "Having worked on social innovation at an Internet company, as an entrepreneur, and now at a national foundation, I've seen firsthand the value the social entrepreneurship community brings to cities and states that embrace them. This kind of entrepreneurial talent helps the overall community become more creative, ambitious, and ready for growth."

Gordon Bronson is a young leader who just left the Obama Administration to lead Impact Newark, a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative that encourages social innovation. He had this to say: “For America to thrive long-term, we will need to create real jobs. Social entrepreneurs that are now being recruited to the city are the first wave.”

Both the governor of Michigan and Mayor of Newark understand that by attracting social entrepreneurs, they can ultimately attract businesses, which leads to more jobs for those we seek to serve.

That’s a policy pitch politicians will chase.

Read more stories by Rich Tafel.

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COMMENTS

  • BY Michael L Wyland

    ON June 28, 2012 12:08 PM

    One problem with the “new” sales pitch is that it sounds too much like the old ones.  Specifically, there has always been a subset of nonprofits (and for-profit hangers-on) chasing the hot dot.  They’ll identify a current or emerging trend, design a program or service, and then seek to sell it to government.  As the cutting edge slips into best practice and ultimately into business as usual, the focus blurs and support funds become harder to come by.  Cue the next emerging trend and quest to get support for the new thing. 

    DeTocqueville wrote about the US penchant for building new, model prisons as the expression of prison reform, then allowing the model prisons to fall into neglect and disrepair as other issues claimed popular attention.  Eventually, the poor conditions of the formerly-model prison are reported in expose form, and a new model prison is built.

    True entrepreneurs are constantly attracted to the next big idea.  They have to work against type to build something that sustains, especially when it means sticking with it themselves.

  • BY Chris Skyba

    ON June 29, 2012 08:09 AM

    The philanthropic sector needs to migrate away from “pitching” and needs to embody an attitude of more social accountability and social outcomes, especially if they plan to attract and appeal to the next generation of donors.

    We are finding that the next generation of donors want to see substantiated outcome results that go well beyond financial metrics and organizations are going to have to implement a learning culture into their programs entailing a research and development approach.

    The philanthropic sectors needs to work on solidifying the bond between end users and donors if they want to derive the resources they want from the next generation of donors.

    Especially considering the poor socioeconomic factors so many communities face along with a struggling middle-upper middle class which has had an under 4% savings rate the past decade and major job security issues.

    Donors are changing and organizations need to adjust their approach as well if they wish to appeal to them.

  • BY Stefan Doering

    ON July 2, 2012 11:44 AM

    I believe that social entrepreneurs ultimately will be no different than other entrepreneurs.

    In the end, entrepreneurs need to be successful by being a) profitable, b) socially responsibly and c) environmentally responsible.

    There can be no other way, long term. 

    So, social entrepreneurs must understand that to “speak” the politician’s language includes all three crucial elements.

  • BY Aaron Hurst, Taproot Foundation

    ON July 6, 2012 09:02 AM

    The key issue I found is more macro.  We don’t know what we want from politicians besides money and a pat on the back.  Until we are clear about the role they can play in our success, working with them tends to just be a waste of time.

    I don’t suspect there is anything we really do want from them collectively.  What we mostly want to do is inspire them to see that things they feel are impossible are actually possible. We want to give them hope to inspire them to try again to solve issues by using our lessons learned.

    This isn’t about social entrepreneurship as a field but rather about each of our work in specific issues like education, health, the environment, etc.  Our job is to inspire them to take action that works.

  • BY jeff.mowatt@btinternet.com

    ON July 8, 2012 12:24 PM

    This is the way that we began in fact - by pitching to government at the top, for an alternative to traditional capitalism and business with a primary social goal.

    The target was William J Clinton

    http://www.slideshare.net/JeffMowatt/principles-of-people-centeredeconomics

  • BY Hildy Gottlieb

    ON July 8, 2012 12:55 PM

    I’m not so sure I agree with the opening statement that “To really succeed, the social sector needs to communicate what we do to politicians in language that aligns to their goals.”

    Suggesting that our success relies on politicians understanding / supporting our work is, in essence, saying that social change agents need someone other than ourselves (in this case government, but in other discussions, funders and social investors and whoever) in order to create the outcomes we are capable of creating. And that’s simply not true.

    Would it be helpful if government and other forces understood social change efforts and supported them? Sometimes yes, sometimes no (politicians giveth and taketh away…) Assuming for the moment that it would be a good thing, is it an absolute prerequisite for success? Absolutely not, as proven over and over. And that’s because governments are not established to lead and create; they are established to react - to protect and defend that which is already created. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just reality.

    After a decade of the real work, the US civil rights movement got legislation that made into law what the movement had already created. The same with any movement for change - the end of apartheid in South Africa as another example.

    When it comes to creating real change, then, the role of government is to put final blessings on whatever the people (that’s us) create. They neither have to understand nor support the means (whether it’s social enterprise or whatever else) - they just need to put their final stamp of approval on the outcome of our work.

    And while it would be nice if they stayed out of our way while we are doing that work, even that is not a requirement for success, as big social change movements have taught us over and again.

  • BY Richard Tafel, Public Squared

    ON July 22, 2012 07:52 AM

    Michael L Wyland makes some great points. However, I’m not talking about doing something new. I’m talking about connecting the dots. The social sector often feels it can operate and succeed in a silo without engaging government. But to create sustainable change we need to engage policy leaders. I realize that for many social entrepreneurs this feels below them. Rather than being seen as an after thought to the policy world, socents should position themselves as leaders in the policy world.
    The only big idea I’m suggesting here is that socents need to engage the policy world in a narrative that policy leaders can hear.

  • BY Richard Tafel, Public Squared

    ON July 22, 2012 07:59 AM

    Thanks Chris Skyba for your thoughtful feedback on the piece.

    You suggest that the focus should be on pleasing donors.

    “Donors are changing and organizations need to adjust their approach as well if they wish to appeal to them.”

    If there’s any tail chasing in the socent sector it is leaders chasing the latest request of donors. We can pretty much predict a nonprofits success by their ability to fundraise not on the results they get. Donors are demanding more of those they fund, but there’s little to no accountability of funders.

    Going forward we need to break the please the funder linear thinking and move toward ecosystem thinking that includes changing policy, engaging business and reaching into faith communities. This will require us to break out of the please the funder mentality.

    Of course, it is very tough for socents to be critical of funders for obvious reasons, so I expect this model of please the funder will continue, but it is not complex enough to meet the challenges we face.

  • BY Richard Tafel, Public Squared

    ON July 22, 2012 08:04 AM

    Stefan Doering you make a great point. In fact, in the future I think the line between nonprofit and profit will blur completely. The socent sector now is too dependent on funders and not on customers. We need new funding models to fund justice oriented efforts to help those currently not being served in the current capitalist system.
    Look for business to become more engaged in doing really social good and look for nonprofits to engage more in “profit” producing income streams to sustain their work without foundation dependency.
    The policy arena needs to be engaged to change the broken finance rules that limit us to for profit and not for profit business.

  • BY Richard Tafel, Public Squared

    ON July 22, 2012 08:11 AM

    Aaron Hurst, Taproot Foundation thanks for your thoughtful comments. I like your optimism but disagree with your conclusion.

    “Our job is to inspire them to take action that works.”

    Our job is to change the policies, the rules. Policy is what we as a society agree are the rules. The rules right now don’t work well, particularly for those in poverty.  Socents can inspire, but they must then change the rules to create lasting change. We need to present political leaders with a list of policy suggestions that would leverage socent efforts. This must be presented in a language that the politicians can here. They generally are focused on getting re-elected, so if we fail to speak a language that addresses their concerns, we aren’t likely to inspire them to take action. We need to speak to their “better angels” while also keeping in mind their goals.

  • BY Richard Tafel, Public Squared

    ON July 22, 2012 08:16 AM

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) great history here. I think work like that which was done in 1996 very likely laid the ground work for President Clinton’s current efforts with CGI. I checked out the slide show and I’m not sure that it would communicate successfully to the politicians I’ve engaged with through the years. I think we need a clearer narrative that speaks in their language.
    If we can remain true to our causes and I mean really true and communicate these goals to other sectors, we’ll create the collaboration we need. But my experience is that the most of the political world is ignorant of the socent world today.

  • BY Richard Tafel, Public Squared

    ON July 22, 2012 08:24 AM

    Hildy Gottlieb, I appreciate your feedback. And I think you speak for most of the socent sector in your comments.

    “Suggesting that our success relies on politicians understanding / supporting our work is, in essence, saying that social change agents need someone other than ourselves (in this case government, but in other discussions, funders and social investors and whoever) in order to create the outcomes we are capable of creating. And that’s simply not true.”

    In my experience, this paragraph represents the prevailing view that the social sector can do this alone. I’d go as far as to say that the social entrepreneurs will never change the world until they operate in collaboration with governments, even if we need to change the governments.

    Scaling up social change school by school or clinic by clinic simply won’t get us to systems change. To change whole systems we need to engage across sector lines including governments, for profits, academics and faith communities. I don’t believe the silo strategy of not collaborating with governments and other sectors works long term. It can inspire, but it can’t bring systems change.

    But I realize that few in the social sector would agree with me and would agree with what you say that change agents can do this alone.

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