Posted by: bevmeldrum | November 19, 2007

Why Social Enterprise is Like Hip-Hop

Richard Tyler, the Enterprise Editor, wrote a post this week about Social Enterprise where he quoted fellow blogger Oli Barrett saying that “If entrepreneurship is the new Rock and Roll, does that make social enterprise the new easy listening?”

Richard Tyler agreed with this as a premise and stated that:

“I think easy listening is about right. Non-profit focused social enterprises and businesses that do care about the bottom line but then give a substantial percentage away to charities, community or environmental projects are certainly on the rise.”

Here at For More Than Profit we felt that ‘easy listening’ didn’t quite cut it – we thought social enterprise and the social entrepreneurs deserved to be classed as something with a bit more of an edge. We thought that actually social enterprise is more like ‘hip-hop’ than ‘easy listening’.

You can read Richard’s blog post here and you’ll see we left a comment explaining why social enterprise is more like ‘hip-hop’ than ‘easy listening’.

I’ve copied the text of my comment here …

Easy Listening … I’m not sure those of us who work in social enterprise see ourselves as easy listening, maybe something a bit more edgy. Hip-hop perhaps.

Where entrepreneurship is the new Rock and Roll, social enterprise is the new hip-hop.

Why hip-hop? Well hip-hop is not understood by everyone. Many parts of music-loving society do not know the difference between hip-hop and R&B. They wouldn’t recognise 50 Cent or Kayne West as stars of hip-hop. Although, there are some stars that cross over into other markets – Beyonce Knowles, for example, maybe through her films.

Hip-hop is particularly attractive to young people. But it’s influence is growing across the world. (I’m listening to the latest Kayne West album as I write this).

It started off as an underground movement and evolved out of a previous generation’s genre of music. There’s nothing much that’s ultimately new; it is better understood as a new version of more traditional styles which it borrows from heavily.

Finally, if you love music you may not like hip-hop but there will be elements of it that you appreciate it.

It’s the same story with social enterprise. The concept of social enterprise is relatively new and is not universally understood. A lot has changed over the last few years and recognition is growing, with the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Government’s Third Sector Unit (and in it’s previous incarnation – the Social Enterprise Unit) pushing hard for the story of social enterprise to heard with strategies, action plans and the annual Social Enterprise Day.

As for the ‘stars’ of social enterprise in our sector, they are well known and celebrated but not many others have heard those working day-by-day at the forefront of social enterprises. However, there are a few social enterprise stars that have crossed over from other areas – Jamie Oliver and Tim Campbell (former winner of The Apprentice) are two. With the appointment of the national Social Enterprise Ambassadors maybe this will change.

With the introduction of social enterprise into the school’s curriculum and some exciting initiatives like Make Your Mark, there seems to be a particular interest in the concept of social enterprise amongst young people and younger professionals who are maybe not satisfied with their current careers and want, instead, to have an impact in their communities. Saying that, social enterprise as a concept is growing across the globe as entrepreneurs are taking the best of business and using it to tackle social problems and challenges.

As with hip-hop, there is nothing really new in social enterprise, event though we like to promote it as a bright, new, shiny concept. Non-profits have been generating income to support their charitable activities for decades – charity shops are a good example of this. Business entrepreneurs, have also been playing their part and have been using their profits to positively impact their communities throughout history.

The ideas aren’t new; what is new is the growing acceptance of this alternative hybrid model of entrepreneurship working to bring about social change and the label of ‘social enterprise’ that has been attached to it.

So even if you are a hard and fast entrepreneur focused on the profits of your business you have to admire these social enterprises – creating a profitable business whilst at the same time improving our communities; that has to be admired.

So if social enterprise is the new hip-hop maybe we can see some of our social enterprise ambassadors switching to baggy, low-sitting jeans, over-sized t-shirts and excessive amounts of bling. Maybe we will also overhear them chanting phrases such as “social impact … it’s all gravy”.

Ultimately, there’s nothing ‘easy listening’ about social enterprise; there is nothing soft and fluffy about it. It is about creating a viable business model that not only needs to work financially but also needs care just as much about bringing change to our communities and our world.

Setting up a viable business is enough of a challenge. Just imagine having to care about a social or environmental line as much as a financial one. I’d like to see some traditional entrepreneurs try that sometime. Talk about setting yourself a challenge.

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