Social enterprises are like the smart geeky high school student who is also a an all-american football star. Well, with one exception – social enterprises are handicapped. They sit in the shaky middle between bottom-line, for-profit companies and socially & environmnetaly focused non-profit organizations. They are hybrids.
Despite recent buzz about the field, there has been a general lack of institutionalized support for the sector. Foundations are weary to fund for-profit entities even with a social mission, and businesses rarely offer tiered pricing for hybrid businesses. Where as non-profits often receive reduced rates for services like legal and tech (Google Apps is free for non-profits), social enterprises pay full price. And boy do they pay for it.
In full disclosure, in my other life I run a social enterprise called Runa. We not only have to maintain strategic relationships with small farmers, indigenous communities, and other organizational stakeholders, but we also have to run a highly profitable tea business. We want to do both, and our investors feel the same. While we have received a good deal of good will press and local support in our home town, both business and non-profit communities do not really know how to handle us. So we front the bill.
Usually the nerdy football star matriculates to college with help of a financial aid package, and thats where the metaphor ends. Luckily, there is a growing community of social enterprises fighting to do good… and do well. How will we treat these Hybrids as they grow out of the awkward high school stage?
photo credit: crimfants