How can we better solve the ‘big problems’ of today?
Perhaps the biggest questions facing the social sector today are around scale and sustainability, creating greater and more long-lasting impact.
This paper argues against the perceived benefits of philanthropy and offers a point of view on perhaps why social enterprise is better suited to solving the ‘big problems’. To make the shift from grant-based models to more self-sustainable business models that combine profit and social good.
For all of us who have chosen to tread a different path, the path of a more ‘meaningful life’, the journey has been very exciting, but it has also been tough. And, it has been fraught with frustration, moral dilemmas and uncertainty. Was the journey worth it? Were the sacrifices? Did I in the final analysis make even a “small dent in the universe”?
Perhaps a big challenge we have often faced is creating that ‘larger impact’, and leaving a ‘permanent mark’. In more jargonistic terms, have our programs or projects achieved desirable scale, and have they been sustainable? Scale and sustainability continue to dog the development sector whilst the business sector happily goes about creating highly scalable and sustainable businesses - businesses that scale globally, and sustain decades and even centuries.
Ironic isn’t it? A bottle of water with fizz and lavor scales globally and sustains 100 years (The Coca Cola Company now further wishes to double its global turnover in the next decade!). Many social initiatives that offer more meaningful solutions haven’t. The way I see it, the problem does not lie in what we have done, but in how we have chosen to go about our ‘business’. We have most often relied on doles or grants, and depended on our own resources to come up with solutions. We have not created self-sustainable programs, and we have not leveraged business best practices, especially innovation, to create the scale and sustainability we desire.
More often than not, we have been content with dabbling around with creating innovative models (for others to replicate), and our own survival andsustenance. Coasting along comfortably in the belief that we’re doing good, it’s a tough job, a complex job, so accountability needs a different yardstick.This might sound harsh, but the reality is that after so many years of so much effort by so many people utilizing so much money, can we truly say that we have cracked the problem? Have we cracked the ‘big problems’ that continue to plague our society? If we were to answer this honestly, the answer would be no, especially if we were to evaluate this in context of the effort and monies that went in. And we get stuck with the big question – has it been worth it? Especially when we look at the sacrifices we made our children and families make in our pursuits for creating a better world. So, what is the problem? This paper argues against the perceived benefits of philanthropy, highlights its downside effects, and more importantly offers a point of view on how social enterprise is perhaps better suited to solving the ‘big problems’.
It is a moralistic viewpoint that is entirely personal, that has arisen from first-hand immersion on both sides - the social side and the business side. It is a point of view, not a theory.And debate will certainly help to move the question along – how can we better solve the ‘big problems’ of today?