I was introduced to a particular social enterprise in Singapore, and that has set me thinking about organizations such as this. A few years back (or more) when I was in secondary school, there was a hype surrounding entrepreneurship education. Interest in exposing the young to working with business ideas and opportunities grew. I am not exactly sure how it all started, but when it did, students flocked to search high and low for mentors, from either school or industry. They brainstormed for ideas, learned to pitch their innovations, and participated in all sorts of youth entrepreneurship competitions. In a blink of eye, these competitions and related societies in schools expanded in numbers. Having committed much of my extra-curricular time to science research and chess (Weiqi), I was quite unconcerned to such ‘frivolous’ endeavors Business suits and forecasting charts didn’t appeal to me as much as DNA sequences and genetic modification.
It didn’t take long for the surge of youth entrepreneurship to manifest itself in varied forms. There came techno-entrepreneurship. Many students steered their science projects toward business models. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon, out of pure disinterest and the mere improbability of finding business opportunities out of phylogenetics – the study of evolutionary relatedness. The other form, which is also the focus of this article, was that of social entrepreneurship. For the unwary, it is hard to tell the difference between a socially-sound commercial enterprise and commercially-sound social enterprise. The former prioritizes profits (or financial sustainability) while establishing and achieving social objectives; the latter places social objectives on the foremost while being economically sustainable. This is a loose definition, but that’s the general idea; I lack expertise in this field, so I would welcome corrections. Apparently, the exact definition is disputed due to varied origins. Nevertheless, it should be safe to say that social enterprises comprise people trying to do good by making money, as opposed to doing good while making money. As part of my responsibility as a skeptic and a cynic, my initial reaction was dismissive. “Another lot of hypocrites pretending to change the world for the better,” I thought.
Social progress and charity is a necessity. However, I have always found it hard to swallow when people righteously self-proclaim to strive for the betterment of society. As ironic as it sounds, I hold a deep belief that these people have their value in society. While the presence of their perspectives and ideas is indispensable, part of their efforts have also made considerable progress toward their objectives. What gives me the goosebumps is my basic assumption that people are innately selfish. Certainly, there are countless real-life anecdotes to prove that assumption wrong. However, I have used the term ‘selfish’ as in the case of Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene, and not the opposite of ‘selfless’. It is not time yet to discuss about altruism in the context of evolutionary psychology, but making this clarification has allowed me to admire the motivations of social entrepreneurs. Their intentions can be unconsciously self-gratifying, as with the silent satisfaction one experiences having partaken in an act of kindness, but good deeds are done, and that’s what counts. The truth is everyone, excepting the more-than-sufficiently-well-endowed, need to earn a living. These individuals are earning a living by advancing a cause, instead of merely making money. I have nothing against the typical businessman or banker as well, but it is my personal preference not to have a job that is most concerned with making money. Being a social entrepreneur isn’t noble, but neither is it hypocritical. Having said that, I will still find it difficult to say that I would help build a better society. Contributing to something that I obviously wouldn’t mind as part of my job, but it isn’t more respectable than being a doctor. At the end, it’s just the over-glamorization that I have issues with.
P.S. This post is more of a rant than an argumentative article on social enterprise.