Antisocial Social Enterprises and Insights on Real Collaboration

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August 6, 2013; Guardian


In this blog on the Guardian, the author complains that social enterprises are often pretty antisocial, in that they do not collaborate easily, and this in turn slows knowledge and capacity development. The author believes that collaboration beats formal capacity-building in creating greater mission effectiveness. But this writer, who calls him or herself the “secret social entrepreneur,” has many small nuggets of inspiration for reluctant collaborators.

For instance, after acknowledging some of the difficulties of collaboration, the author writes, “Collaboration relies on individuals behaving in a similar way throughout the enterprise, so it is may be easier for the smallest. If an organization can get collaboration, right then they can shape entire markets.” Phew!

Some of it feels not just interesting, but uncomfortably true, like, “It is difficult to collaborate with someone too modest because there is no buzz.” And “I am frustrated approaching the organizations which say, ‘we work in partnership,’ only to find they are closed, lack enthusiasm, and can’t show how they deliver.”

And I love/hate this one: “Perhaps the most useful structure is a profitable business model, or at least pursuing a strategy to build one. Trusting someone desperate is risky, and getting too close to your crowd leads to groupthink. Partners need to be independent. Many critics of collaboration see it as a threat to independence, yet it relies on it.”

In general, I have to say this writer has a brilliant streak on the issue of collaboration. The whole column is well worth reading, but it ends as follows: “A surplus-making business model is helpful. This enterprise can be independent. It can invest in the time and take the risk. Instead of being the strategic sustainable choice of those on a mission, collaboration seems to be the desperate last resort for those in crisis. Then it doesn’t work.”—Ruth McCambridge