Is the “Mission-Driven” Facebook a Social Enterprise?

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September 13, 2012; Source: TIME

In his speech at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 conference in San Francisco last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the social media giant as a “mission-driven company” and expressed enthusiasm about the mission of the company – beyond its financial mission. He didn’t seem to use the concept of mission in the same controversial (misguided, some say) way that recently tried to trademark the term “social enterprise.” Rather, he seemed to have used the concept of “mission” in a context suited more toward nonprofit organizations than to a for-profit public company. Is Facebook a social enterprise? What is a mission-driven business?

At the tech conference, Zuckerberg went on to say that to achieve a mission, an organization has to have talented employees and in order to attract such employees, the organization needs to make money – and a lot of it at that. This viewpoint echoes the often-heard sentiment of social entrepreneurs that they want to “do well by doing good,” where doing well is equated with making money. It is telling that Zuckerberg did not use the term “social enterprise,” but instead said “mission-driven.” Mission-driven businesses, in the social-spectrum nomenclature, can be thought of as a close relative of social enterprises. Mission-driven businesses do not necessarily prioritize social or environmental missions over their revenue-generating activities or earned-income strategies, but are still interested in a larger mission or goal other than profitability.

Zuckerberg’s claim to this specific term shows that nomenclature on the spectrum between for-profit and nonprofit is important. There is no universally accepted definition of “social enterprise,” so it means different things to different people. Nonetheless, universal nomenclature can give power and legitimacy to an idea or movement as well as deter other potential users from distorting or co-opting the idea. According to the Social Enterprise Alliance, “social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.” This doesn’t quite sound like a definition that fits Facebook—after all, is Facebook’s primary purpose really the common good? Investors may be disappointed (and feeling litigious) if this were true. –Alicia Plerhoples

  • Keenan Wellar

    It’d look forward to further information about “social enterprise” as the term seems to have a very broad definition and it is being used to represent many very different activities. I know many passionate folks that say social enterprise does not have to be wrapped in the technical organization of a charity or non-profit incorporation. Within the charitable sector, I have seen many old forms of program delivery essentially rebranded as “social enterprise.” It is one of those terms that currently has a positive feel to it regardless of whether or not the activities and outcomes are a positive to the community. I see many instances of “social enterprise” that are in fact continuations of sheltered/segregated environments for people with disabilities, for example. Or a means by which certain marginalized persons are working for less than minimum wage. So, how about it folks? What is a social enterprise?

  • Paul Leppitt

    Almost all organisations are “mission driven” whether they are for profit ,commercial businesses or charity. This cannot be a defining factor that defines a social enterprise. Perhaps the name should be the clue in determining what qualifies, firstly it should be an enterprise, which indicates trading activity as the primary income source and an strategy to be self sufficient and not rely on donor funding for operation. Secondly it should have the social dimension which should be integral with its mission. As always, it is the detail where one can judge this, so I expect we will have a great deal of ambiguity for some time on the term.