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Give back or pay it forward ?

Should social innovation be a matter of giving back to society, using accumulated wealth to adjust inequity , or paying forward to invest in a just economy?.

In a recent HBR article the case is made for engaging social entrepreneurs at the 'front end' of social innovation. They are seen as those not necessarily making a market return on investment.

It also underlines the distinction I've made between social entrepreneurs and social enterprise. The former being dependent on the "paying back" ideology embedded in philanthropic foundations and the latter,  a "pay it forward" business model which creates  profit for a social purpose.

In our 1996 paper it had been argued that displacing the foundation funding model and the palliative nature of philanthropy with business which operated for social benefit, could resolve the problems which hampered impoverished communities to begin with. Some have now begun to refer to this as predistribution, rather than redistribution of wealth.

'It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around--if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be "Me first, mine first"; rather, "Me, too" is more the order of the day.'

In the 'Creating Shared Value' approach, the HBR article suggests. lies the potential to reverse the "giving back" approach by embedding social innovation at the front end, by investing in social entrepreneurs as their R&D departments

Immediately one may see a problem. Suppose this research identified that the corporate benefactor was in fact the cause of the social problem being researched?

As Mark Kramer himself demonstrates, offering an alternate view to this new hegemony will not be well received. I'd challenged his assertion that corporations should profit from solving social prublems and the traditional powerbase of big business and sponsored journalism moved to censor me.    

I make the case for social enterprise which is self-sustaining and autonomous, rather than dependent on the generosity.of the 1%.

Consider the example of our work in Ukraine which drew attention to widespread looting of the economy and consequent impact on vulnerable and voiceless children.

"Excuses won’t work, particularly in light of a handful of oligarchs in Ukraine having been allowed to loot Ukraine’s economy for tens of billions of dollars. I point specifically to Akhmetov, Pinchuk, Poroshenko, and Kuchma, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. These people can single-handedly finance 100% of all that will ever be needed to save Ukraine’s orphans. None of them evidently bother to think past their bank accounts, and seem to have at least tacit blessings at this point from the new regime to keep their loot while no one wants to consider Ukraine’s death camps, and the widespread poverty that produced them.."

One of those oligarchs identified hosts the Philanthropic Roundtable at Davos, otherwise known as the Ukrainian Lunch..

It was Sir Richard Branson speaking at the 2009 lunch who drew my attention when he called for business to focus more on solving social problems.

'The key speakers at the event were the dignitaries who have significantly contributed to the development of a new model of philanthropy: 42nd President of the United States Bill Clinton; former Prime-Minister Of Great Britain Tony Blair; businessman and philanthropist Richard Branson; Laureate of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Muhammad Yunus; actor and founder of the One Foundation Jet Li, founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates and also Victor Pinchuk, the Roundtable organiser, public leader and businessman. Matthew Bishop, Chief Business Editor of The Economist and co-author of the book "Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World" acted as a moderator of the discussion.'

As we've seen since, this guest list included those who've joined the Giving Pledge, called for us to 'Screw Business as Usual', the leading advocate for social purpose business, the President who received the 1996 paper and the former British PM who made social enterprise government policy and who'd subsequently partner his host in a 'Faith Foundation'.

Faith without works at the very least.  

None of these, it would seem, dared bite the hand that fed them, to tread where we saw the real problem, in greed without compassion or reciprocity.

So much for the great and the good.