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In a recent article on Forbes.com, social entrepreneur Kohl Crecelius talked about a lyric he had heard in Jay Z song that go him thinking about social enterprise.

Excerpt from Forbes.com:

‘“Gotta problem with the handouts, I took the man route,I’ll give an opportunity though, that’s the plan now.”

These words sit in the middle of a song speaking to our desire to help and the unintended consequences that are often the result of good intentions. I would guess that nearly all of us have been faced with this challenge, at home or abroad. The scale of this problem, however, only continues to increase as more companies and nonprofits search for cause-marketing efforts that create a triple bottom line impact.

As we continue to leverage business as an attempt to make positive social impact, we too have to be aware of the potential unintended consequences. There are a few sound lessons that can be taken away from Shawn Carter’s words:

  1. We must move beyond the handout mentality when helping. Having worked the last seven years of my career with communities living in extreme poverty, I have seen the negative impact of our good intentions by way of handouts. For the recipient, it is a temporary solution, a mere band-aid covering much deeper issues. For the giver, it serves as a way to feel as though we are doing something, while moving on and caring little for the long-term consequences of our actions.
  1. The level of awareness and general interest around social impact practices is growing. If this is a topic being discussed in popular mainstream music, it’s at least one indicator that the conversation for best practice in social business is on the table in a way it hasn’t been before in history. Especially as the number of socially minded projects increases, more people will want to learn whether their actions are truly helping. This presents either an opportunity to differentiate your brand, or be lumped in with everyone else that falls in the general “doing good” space.
  1. Our impact needs to become more than a self-serving attempt to make our customers and ourselves feel better.  If our impact is not measured and viewed through a long-term perspective, we run the risk of being hypocritical in our approach. Even if that doesn’t seem important to you now, it will soon matter to your customers. Be proactive and create a company that you can stand behind for decades to come.”

Wise lessons from an unexpected source, but we couldn’t agree more. By focusing on moving pas the hand-out mentality, continuing to push social enterprise to the forefront of people’s minds and thinking long-term, we can develop the sort of impact we should be making via social enterprise.

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