Is Social Enterprise the “Child Star” of the Sector?

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Damiano Poli /

February 25, 2014;The Guardian

NPQ has lately been working on a set of articles about social enterprises and found this column resonant with some of what we have encountered in our research.

Writing for the Poverty Matters blog at the Guardian, Deborah Doane, the former director of the World Development Movement, calls social entrepreneurs in India “the child star in an otherwise much-maligned space.” She says that “Governments sing their praises, business schools teach their methods and award schemes elevate them to iconic status” even while more traditional nonprofits are trash talked and badgered for their inadequacies. “Social enterprises, however,” she writes, “seem to be beyond critique. Instead of being lumped together with the rest of the development sector, they are hailed as the solution.”

Doane says that hostility towards NGOs (or nonprofits, in our case) is one of the drivers of growth in social entrepreneurship in the south of India, but she writes that most social enterprises are apolitical. “It could also be argued that by pursuing a market-based form of development, social enterprises let governments off the hook… overemphasis on them as the sole solution to poverty eradication risks de-politicizing the development landscape, which is as much about power and social structures as it is about service delivery.”

NPQ has a few additional worries about an overemphasis on social enterprise, but we would love to know what you think.—Ruth McCambridge

  • SoonToBeMBA

    Can you better define the differences between non-profit and social enterprise for this context? I think one of the interesting things in my understanding of the field is that both do similar things, but one has a shiny coat of paint whereas the other has had to fight years of weathering.

  • Ruth McCambridge

    I so agree – more on this in our next edition of the magazine!

  • John Godfrey

    In the Indian context the difference often, though not exclusively, seems to distinguish local initiatives founded to meet local needs vs. international charities that are seen as bureaucratic and out of touch with local realities. The funding of social enterprise in India, by and large, continues to be philanthropic and mostly from within India. This holds even when there are elements of revenue generation and the goal is self-sustanability. . The reality is that definition of social enterprise, social investment and social entrepreneurs is as inexact and fluid anywhere in the world