The Wealth of Social Innovation
With the proliferation of social innovation around the world, there has grown a somewhat awkward tension in relation to where social innovation sits on the commercial spectrum between profit and nonprofit. Indeed, the word entrepreneur conjures up an impression of someone who has made profit from a new business concept or product. So what happens when the word is applied in relation to the social sphere, where ideas are measured by their contribution to society rather than their value as a money-spinner? Is there a belief that these innovations should not make money at all? To the contrary, it is becoming more and more evident that the success of the social innovation sector will be measured holistically, with both social and financial performance targets being crucial to the overall sustainability and viability of a social enterprise. Take the example of Call Britannia in London - a commercial call centre operation established to help bring out-of-work people back into employment, while actively encouraging them to seek employment elsewhere. While this organisation has a social mission at its foundation and leverages this in seeking partnerships, it has found a way to operate as a successful profit-making business to ensure its long-term viability and growth. And it is just one of the many pursuing this objective. In Australia, the environment for social innovation seems to be hindered by a suspicion of social businesses seeking to make a profit, and financial and taxation constraints on nonprofit social enterprises looking to become more viable. However, both here and around the world, the case to explore this hybrid is growing stronger all the time. As suggested in a recent article in Canada's Financial Post, this may be because of a growing trend of people wanting to invest philanthropically while they are still alive. In the same vein, people are wanting to see their contribution being leveraged as much as possible, rather than it being funneled through a nonprofit organisation in order to just keep it afloat. This is where the opportunity lies in social innovation, where funds invested into an idea have the opportunity to earn both a social and financial return. There is surely a place for profit-making social enterprises, just as there is for socially-responsible businesses. The question is how can we better shape our commercial, political and social environment to truly foster and support this growth and innovation? Only then will we be able to harness the wealth of the sector.