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Social Enterprise

July 4, 2011

Relevant Magazine has a great article (written by Jeff Goins) about the challenges associated with social enterprise, a trend that has grown exponentially in the last ten years. Social enterprise could be described as the use of business (profit making) to support non-profit organizations. Consumerism blended with compassion, or something like that. Wise people have raised some big questions about the potential harm that some of these social enterprises bring, but there is no question that our consumer culture has turned towards “purchases with a cause” and this presents some exciting opportunities.

One opportunity that social enterprise gives is to make purchases that we would make anyways, but make them at socially conscious businesses in order to bring awareness to causes that are important to us. For instance, if you’re giving a baby shower gift, and you buy a handcrafted, organic, fair-trade, sustainably sourced bamboo rattle made by the indigenous people of a remote tribe that your aunt once worked with so that the local kids can go to school, I would passionately argue that you’ve been more socially conscious than if you had purchased a generic rattle from an-unnamed-big-box-store-that-might-rhyme-with-Mall-Part. Either way, you get a rattle. But only with social enterprise do you have the opportunity to do something really good for someone else.

However, as the Relevant article points out, when we begin to use social justice to justify consumerism, things start to go downhill. It is hip to be socially conscious right now, and brands are capitalizing on that. In addition, I’ve been thinking a lot about how socially responsible purchases can make us think we’ve done our part, when really, we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to live out social justice.

As I’ve ventured into the world of social enterprise (shameless plug: visit Lunch Hour Crafts on Etsy!) I’m working hard to keep this all in perspective and create items that can allow people to purchase in a socially-positive way, without fueling consumerism. What socially minded enterprises do you support? Who seems to do this well? Leave a comment.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 4, 2011 8:53 pm

    Cool post, Natasha, and a good article too. My international development class is actually taking a social entrepreneurship class this term which is pretty interesting. Definitely some good thoughts surrounding sustainability and motivation brought up here. I like the point you made about not fueling consumerism as well. There’s not much of a point in purchasing something solely because it’s from a social enterprise, right? The money might as well all go to straight to a sustainable development project somewhere, instead of only a fraction of it.

    If you haven’t already, you should check out Marie Warkentin and Liz Lougheed’s blogs, they each talk about social entrepreneurship a bit (I think they have some information on Ten Thousand Villages).

    Here are the links: (Marie) (Liz)

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