Why My Views On Social Enterprises Are Shifting – Pt. 2

Part 2 of a 2 part series in which I explore how my views have changed on how an individual can create a positive social impact in society. See part 1 on how corporations can be a tool for social change.

So I have already argued that large corporations are a great place for making a social impact, but one of the arguments for Social Enterprises over traditional corporations make is the idea that Social Enterprises tackle problems that otherwise wouldn’t be tackled by the free market, like lifting people out of poverty through literacy programs like Room to Read.

I agree that this is not within the domain of a regular C-corporation’s fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value, and that “Corporate Social Responsibility” is nothing but a marketing program; however, corporations are indirectly tackling these problems such as poverty by providing people with sustainable jobs.

Jobs that offer dignity, fulfillment and growth opportunities are capable of making more social impact than anything else.

It’s ironic that one of the oft-critiqued elements of large corporations in the “innovation” community is that they employ thousands of people, when in fact from a social impact perspective that is best thing about them. I understand that the community’s aversion towards large companies centers around the idea that a large corporation is incapable of being nimble, of being able to disrupt the status quo, but I believe they offer as much good through the provision of meaningful jobs as any of the disruptive startups which are glorified in society today.

In August I traveled with KC (RossRambles Editor-in-Chief), to Villa Soleada, a small village in rural Honduras where I participated in a volunteer service trip with Students Helping Honduras. I came away from a week of manual labor on the same high experienced by millions of students who have volunteered time in a developing country, but I also came away with a clear view on the impact jobs can have on a community. From the construction workers who worked alongside us to the ten year old girls who supported their family by selling $5 hand-made bracelets, it was clear that the volunteers supported many jobs in a very immediate and visible manner. The Hostel manager told me how grateful he was to be able to look after the volunteers, and Leo, a community resident who helped us with construction, almost burst into tears when I asked him about the importance of SHH in his life.

The sad reality of the situation, however, is that those jobs are only pliable during the 4/5 months of the year in which the service trips took place. SHH has improved hundreds of lives immeasurably through its education and housing programs, but it has yet to provide more than a handful of sustainable jobs year-round, and has unfortunately created a culture of dependency in Villa Soleada.

This situation is in stark contrast to the sustainable job creation KC and I witnessed as we traveled further South in Honduras to Lago Yojoa, where we stayed at a thriving micro-brewery lodge whose booming business allows owner Bobby Durrette to hire 20 full-time Hondurans. Bobby told us about how one of his staff had just finished the construction of her brand new home, paid for entirely by her salary at D&D Brewery as she had been unable to take out a loan. D&D’s hotel manager, Ernesto, had originally just been a waiter but had proven himself capable of additional responsibilities and exhibited a joy in his work that betrayed the pride he felt in his job. These jobs are making a huge impact on the lives of those in full-time employment, as well as the many lives who indirectly benefit as a result, and Bobby’s expansion plans for the brewery side of the business suggest that many more of his employees will have the same growth opportunities Ernesto has received, along with the independence and dignity offered by a full-time job.

D&D Brewery is not a social enterprise, and neither are the many call centers that are beginning to move into Honduras, yet both are offering the people of Honduras the dignity and independence that comes from stable employment in great quantities. These jobs are making a huge social impact in a country that has struggled with gang violence and a serious drug culture; these jobs offer a path to a better life.

Lets encourage the return of Welfare as a business model

Today, technology businesses hire thousands of employees who are provided with meaningful employment, but they employ far less people than the big industries that have driven economic growth over the past two centuries, and in fact their technology is capable of making entire industries obsolete on an unprecedented scale. As any regular reader of RossRambles knows, I am a big fan of technological innovation but in order to make a positive societal impact we need to build technologies that empower people to gain sustainable incomes and meaningful employment.

As the world becomes ever more technologically commodotized, and industries as disparate as teaching and manufacturing face the loss of millions of jobs, those social entrepreneurs looking to make the biggest impact shouldn’t try and come up with an intricate solution to a niche problem. Instead, they should choose a growing industry (think clean transportation, on-demand customer service, decentralized energy grid, in-home nursing care etc…) grow a huge business that has the scale to make an impact, and empower their employees to find meaning in their work and their lives.

    So what am I going to do?

Rather than building a to-do list app that pops up on your TV screen every morning (an idea I would still like to see someone build), today I am focused on saving for a capital investment in Central America or somewhere similar on a 5-7 year horizon. I am interested in the potential for building and servicing an e-bike community, a decentralized electricity grid powered by solar panels, and the development of technology to help small-scale farmers bring produce to market in a quicker, more affordable manner.

Whatever I do, I know that the impact I am making through my product or service is just a welcome addition to the greater impact I am able to make though the provision of sustainable jobs.

Until next time!


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