America Forward Coalition – putting social entrepreneurship on the public policy agenda

In today’s issue of The Enterprising Voice from the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA), they announce that last month the SEA became a member of the America Forward coalition. This new organization’s stated purpose (taken from their website) is:

America Forward works to connect social entrepreneurs with policymakers to promote innovative solutions and provide a new vision for the role government can play in solving our nation’s social problems.

I’m of mixed feelings on this one. Apparently this group came about as a result of discussions led by New Profit, Inc., a venture philanthropy that I’ve heard and read great things about. However, looking at their list of “high impact organizations” I saw some shockers – organizations that I wouldn’t have typically associated with being particularly innovative, enterprising or entrepreneurial.

I also don’t know about the necessity/efficacy of looking for government to play a greater role. Usually this seems to mean greater regulation of limited funds (or setting aside a portion for specific initiatives), rather than an increase in overall funding for the social sector. This often hits smaller, more entrepreneurial organizations the hardest, as they are often young and without the funding, infrastructure or history to scientifically prove their model. If this group starts to really emphasize the importance of investment in infrastructure and professional development in order to foster organizational sustainability and scaling social impact (as opposed to the push to decrease administrative costs that has accompanied the accountability movement in the last 20 or so years), I might be a bit more enthusiastic. However, looking at their blog page, it seems to be more about individual members working to push their individual agendas on Presidential candidates, often under the aegis of social entrepreneurship or social innovation. In my admittedly quick skim, I only saw one blog post that began to address thoughts on transforming the role of government and funding in the social sector in any meaningful way.

Further, in some ways this public policy approach seems to be antithetical to the market-driven, enterprising ideals of many blended businesses in the “third sector”. I would be surprised to see someone like Pierre Omidyar endorsing this initiative. I know that business, big and small, lobbies government for benefits such as tax incentives, funding of new technology initiatives, IP extensions for developing technologies and much much more – I just don’t know that such efforts are where we ought to be focusing our attention.

I see the value in further disseminating the central tenets of social entrepreneurship through media coverage and a “seat at the public policy table,” but worry that the message will only get through in a diluted form, and social entrepreneurs will become synonymous with social workers. Ambivalence abounds. I guess this is another one of those initiatives that I’ll be on the “wait and see” side (aka the sideline).

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