The story of social enterprise development in British Columbia is an interesting one. It's a bit like people building a jigsaw puzzle - not with a box they took off a shelf with a picture on the lid and everything, but with whatever pieces they and their friends bring to the table. We've had lots of players providing lots of puzzle pieces. And now we have many pieces but no final picture.
I think it’s time to get seriously focused on the next phase of social enterprise development, and quit the futile arguments and energy over definitions and legal forms. We have to focus on using business models, whether non-profit, for-profit, or co-operative, that blend social and financial values to build healthy communities. Just because Enterprising Non-Profits and my time are on the non-profit model, it doesn’t preclude others. On the contrary, it must include others.
I am convinced that social enterprise (regardless of your definition) can continue to increase its contribution to the resolution of social and environmental issues in this province and to our celebration of culture and the arts.
I am also convinced that this contribution grows when we "get hungry" and push the boundaries of our own personal experience and understanding. When we go looking for other social entrepreneurs (locally, regionally, and nationally) with whom to share our "pieces of the puzzle," for example. When we get out there and experiment with new models of collaboration, purchasing, and policy co-creation.
Or when we come forward with the questions to which at present nobody has an answer: We have a notion of how an enterprise might blend business and social values. What then would a blended value supply chain look like?
We have a good idea of the social benefits that follow when businesses make social values part of their practice. What business benefits follow?
When we push the boundaries we drive the discovery agenda. We become a lightning rod for all the talent and determination with which thousands of 20-somethings out there are brimming. Each additional discovery and each additional social entrepreneur will bring a new piece to the infrastructure puzzle, so it gets bigger and bigger.
Is that a bad thing? Shouldn't we be able to say when the infrastructure will be "finished"?
I don't think so. The puzzle of support for social enterprise will never really be "finished" until we have mastered the blending of business values with social values, and social values with business values. When that is will be no mystery. It will be as plain as day. It will be when our communities are truly healthy.
Let’s agree on this definition: social enterprise is a verb, not a noun. Now let’s get back to completing that puzzle.
Read David's whole article, The Progression of the Puzzle: Social Enterprise in British Columbia. Aussi disponible en français.
David LePage is Program Manager of Enterprising Non-Profits and Co-Investigator, BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA). He is also a member of the Social Enterprise Council of Canada, the Policy Council of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network, the Social Enterprise Alliance, and the Social Enterprise World Forum collaborative.