July 15, 2011; Source: New York Times | According to the author of this New York Times article, “Every now and then, a new career path seizes the imagination of the global elite. Today it is social enterprise, in which earnest, problem-solving elites devote themselves to social causes, using the ethos and methods of business.”
Is there a downside? Apparently, the concern is that there is something of a brain drain emerging as social enterprise pursuits such as Teach for America are attracting the best and the brightest from B-schools. The article’s author explains that, “These organizations fulfill bright people because their missions reflect the average human being’s complex blend of altruism and selfishness. We want to save the world, profit from it and feel smart, all at once.”
She also hints at a shortcoming in the social entrepreneurs’ education and skill set: “What earnest social enterprise can sometimes ignore is power, predation and good old-fashioned politics. Social entrepreneurs see problems much as economists see them: as simple inefficiencies . . . But in many other situations, the problem is politics, which is to say the clashing interests of people.”
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She cites the former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, as an example. Her involvement in D.C. politics “arguably cost the mayor an election,” the Times author contends. The implication is that social entrepreneurs aren’t well versed in understanding power and politics, seeing their technical skills and eleemonsynary commitments as overcoming the obstacle course of power politics.
Maybe the issue isn’t one of political obtuseness, but an overly large dollop of arrogance that their solutions will somehow leap over the political (read: democratic) process and convince all possible adversaries of their correctness and necessity. In the wake of the Enron scandal, many B-schools have increased coursework on business ethics. Perhaps for the new social entrepreneurs, the B-schools might want to teach something about politics and the small “d” democratic process, in recognition that social engineering by the best and brightest of the social entrepreneurship crowd may not always be right.—Rick Cohen