As 2018 wraps up, you may be looking to the new year for inspiration, goals and personal growth. Or not. Regardless of where you stand on resolutions, each year passing offers us a moment to think of where we have been and where we’re going. This may come in the form of a detailed personal journal and Gantt chart for some, while, for others, it may be just that brief moment in early January when you write the wrong year on something. Regardless of your personal approach, something bigger is happening and we’re all a part of it.
According to a 2018 report from Deloitte, The Rise of Social Enterprise, companies are increasingly called upon to fill the obvious gaps in traditional efforts to solve complex social problems. The report covers three succinct points, as related to social enterprise: the need for businesses to fill a “leadership vacuum” in society, rapid technological change, and the increased power of the individual.
The demands on companies to fill a gap in society stems from the issue of trust. The report cites worldwide and country-specific studies that consistently show that trust in businesses outweighs trust in government. This may be a product of our conditioning under capitalism, but it is telling nonetheless. We are increasingly looking to business for solutions and they are beginning to yield results. The report references some big moves by big players like Amazon but, those following social enterprise or actively working in it, will be aware that the strongest model for social change through business has this element built in to the foundation, rather than tacked on to the side. From this point in the report, the takeaway may be this: go deeper and pursue social capital as aggressively as you pursue financial or physical capital.
The Deloitte report also identifies technological change as an important factor in the rise of social enterprise. For the past several decades, we have seen and lived the ways in which technology has change sites of work. It is often tied to gains in “efficiency and productivity”, but it turns out that this only scratches the surface. Tech is increasingly being deployed towards, “sustainable and inclusive growth”. While the exact formula of technology leading to social change is unclear, some of the best social entrepreneurs are getting creative and exploring possibilities. Once again, the report sites a few major companies and their use of artificial intelligence as an example. When we see major corporations leveraging their position to explore new frontiers, it is good an important work. Once again though, there are smaller-scale examples of social enterprise where new tech is serving as the backbone for the organization, rather than an add-on. A true social enterprise may have a model where use of tech is an end in and of itself, as opposed to a means to another, non-social end.
The third point in the report covers the growing power of individuals and it suggests that, “millennials (are) at the forefront”. This suggestion is rooted in multiple reports that suggest, for the first time in modern history, the offspring of the baby boomer generation will be worse off than their parents. This leads to a serious questioning of our over-arching systems. The world is more connected now than ever. New generations are taking in information and learning in entirely different ways. If the traditional “way of doing business” matters less to more and more people, it spurs the question of what does matter now? Through social enterprise, we see that positive change that is holistic and inclusive in impact is a fundamental driving force for many. Never before have we seen such a perforation of human values (real, not corporate) into the heavily-guarded spheres of finance and economics.
The rise of social enterprise, as depicted in this report, has been “building towards today’s tipping point.” A recurring theme in the report is that of relationships and how they matter. Many who work in social enterprise would likely agree on this point. Meaningful, symbiotic relationships take precedent over impersonal transactions. The introduction suggests, “organizations today are increasingly judged on the basis of their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities, as well as their impact on society at large.”
This holds true today and, while the theory and practice of social enterprise will continue to take shape, the underlying values have been set. So, as we turn over the calendar year, consider the ways that you, as an individual, can align with the social resolutions that are taking shape around us. Consider what you, as an individual with increasing power, can resolve to do in this exciting and essential space.