Last year was an amazing year for me, and to some respect, SEcon12 was a big part of that. The conference introduced me to the notion of Social Entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsibility. It challenged my understanding of social impact as a business, and caused me to consider business as a force for good. The experience changed me. I know I am a better person for it.
This year’s SEcon13 conference was different. The emphasis was still on Social Entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsibility, but most of the discussion centered on what it really means for a company to be socially relevant, and the difference between a company looking at being more socially responsible versus having social responsibility at its core. This topic was discussed further by Neville Isdell, creator of Connected Capitalism. Isdell’s assessment of corporate social responsibility is that it “has become the flavor of the moment, but it does not have any connectivity to the business”. Companies are spending more time getting into CSR because of its popularity, but true CSR demands a commitment that goes beyond publicity. According to Mr. Isdell, the companies of the future will be those that have socially responsibility at their core. Those will be the companies that will drive the next phase of innovation, and growth.
In addition to discussing the current state of corporate social responsibility, the conference also look at the future of social entrepreneurship from the perspective of its sustainability as a movement. Is social entrepreneurship just another flavor of the moment, or is it a true movement looking at revolutionizing the current way we do business? This question was answered by Greg Van Kirk, founder of The New Development Solutions Group, in a way that was both insightful, and revolutionary. True social entrepreneurship comes from a social entrepreneur’s perception of capital.
Social impact businesses fall into the same trap of conventional businesses thinking that financial capital is the only resource to provide meaningful change, whether it be financial or social. True social entrepreneurship considers financial capital as one of many forms of capital, and therefore seeks to harness the power of other forms of capital to promote social change that is sustainable. To Greg’s point, a social entrepreneur has the ability to look at all forms of capital — human, financial, environmental, etc. — and provide solutions that utilizes one, if not all of these forms of capital to the best their possibilities. This approach will sustain the social entrepreneurship movement and not cause it to end prematurely.
Greg’s point on being able to look at different forms of capital struck a chord with me. It took me back to this past fall semester when I competed in the Human Capital Case Competition hosted by the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University.
Human Capital appears to be a rising trend in consulting, and to be honest, up until the competition, I did not know much about this topic. What attracted me to human capital is essentially what attracted me to social impact in the first place — both fields are people centric. In the end, the greatest responsible thing for businesses and social entrepreneurs do to is to use their abilities to impact the communities they serve.
The Human Capital competition and SEcon13 made it clear for me: Social impact is about investing in people. It makes social and business sense. Businesses are starting to acknowledge it. Social entrepreneurs recognize it. It is up to me to make it the core of my career.
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