When I was in high school, I took a course called Business and Society. This course was co-taught but the Teacher Kevin, the then head of the Religion Department at my school, Westtown, and Teacher Jay, one of the founders of B-Corp and a parent at the school. This course made relevant religious principals of radical love and compassion by contextualizing them in today’s socio-political-economic realities. In this course (and in others I took at Westtown), we asked ourselves what is the root of our essence, what are our privileges and where do we have access, and what is our responsibility given the two. Each person, I believe, asks themselves these questions throughout their lives and to each there is an answer that reflects their life experiences, their knowledges, and their beliefs.
In this course, learned about B-Corps, a movement for conscious capitalism that promotes a triple bottom line to business: people, profit, and planet. One such company is Greystone Bakery in Yonkers that employs anyone who applies and then develops hard skills as well as personal transformation through meditation. The founder was a Buddhist who saw much suffering in Yonkers; the cycle of poverty, the school to prison pipeline, and wanted to create a company that would address the social needs, one by one, changing the community. Greystone Bakery makes brownies, delicious brownies that you can try in Ben & Jerry’s ice creams.
After this course, I was convinced that although capitalism had resulted in much social inequality, conscious capitalism could be the market-based solution for equality. It would create solutions where governments and NGOs have failed. It would sustain social justice movements by embedding social values into the economy.
Until this program, social entrepreneurship was everything from impact investing to microfinance, to companies with a social value, to community based organizations with a financial model. The difference between an enterprise and a social enterprise is that an enterprise is an organization in the market that aims to increase profits for their shareholders and a social enterprise combines, in some way or another, financial and social benefits.
Last semester, I took a course at Pomona called Religion, Ethics, & Social Practice (one of the schools in the consortium). This course, like Business & Society, asked of me who am I in this world and what can I do to make it a better place. (I am simplifying these questions – and answers). This course opened my eyes to community organizing as well as deepened my connection with spiritual and physical practice. For me, these two are closely connected. I see around me people denying physical reality for spiritual attainment and those denying spiritual/personal work for relentless social activism. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, The Reunion by Tom Hayden, and Palker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak gave frameworks for combining spiritual practice with radical social activism. Through guest lecturers and site visits, I learned the importance of coalition building, of seeing no enemies. Meditation can teach us how to most effectively fight systems and help us not burnout, but meditation without engaging the world is in vain. I believe that spiritual practice, whether rooted in religious tradition or not, is the only way to get out of the crisis we are in (and if you don’t believe we are in a crisis, just ask the Grandmothers).
So, to answer our question, what is social entrepreneurship? Social entrepreneurship is the process of social entrepreneurs creating a social enterprise. An Ashoka Fellow and founder of StartUp!, a social innovation incubator in Delhi, our Indian professor, Manisha, explained social as relentless systems changers, tireless coalition builders, and bold visionaries. Social entrepreneurs don’t follow rules but make up their own rules to address the needs of their communities in the moment. They aim to work fluidly, to widen circles, to deconstruct boundaries, and to make the world better by addressing the needs of the one and the many. Social entrepreneurs see the one in the many, the many in the one. The enterprises they create reflect and sustain the process without attachment to the end product but lazor-focused vision on impact.