Social Enterprises – Disillusionment

Yes, your favorite entrepreneur is a little down. Disillusioned! Anyone who reads this blog (which isn’t very many people) know about my romance with social enterprises and with startups in general especially those related to the IT sector. But lately, things have been a little different …

Contrary to popular belief I am the MOST social person ever. I hate attending social gatherings. I don’t like visiting friends or family. Talking on the phone is torture. Even when I do meet people I am extremely awkward and do and say crazy stuff. People make me nervous. That’s why I love social media. I can stay in touch with everyone who matters and everyone who doesn’t matter at all but like to think otherwise.

But since May last year I have been pushing myself to go out there and meet people because it’s important for business. And people at the end of the day are just that, people. Humans! Which means, they are “humane” as well. Compassionate.

Sadly, I have started feeling like no one cares. I may be wrong of course but I don’t hear anyone talk about helping others. If you dare to do that they look at you like that kid in junior school who talks about becoming a doctor to help the ailing humanity. Stupid! Naive! Dumb! Value proposition means saving big bucks in the most innovative way. My biggest competitors are sitting in India and Philippines so I am asked, “We can get the same services at the same rates at the same quality from Gurgaon. Why you?” And I naively say, “Because WDL is a social enterprise. We do everything they can do for you but we also bring you personal gratification.” *Roll on Floor Laughing* right? No one cares. Maybe if I said, “They are doing it for $1/hr. I’ll do it for $0.50 which means these young women in some remote village will barely make enough to buy groceries but hey, you’ll save a tiny bit more for serving fancier wine at that dinner party for 50 you have been planning for 2 weeks now“. Now THAT will bring in the work, eh?

Also, I have meet “social entrepreneurs”. Online of course. You know what the common thread is? Marketing! Marketing black and yellow faces to white ones. Posting big website banners with smiling photos of people in non-western clothes sitting in front of computers saying to the world, “Look, I am the new monkey specie in the zoo … see how I can hold a banana and eat it almost like you would.

Here is what someone I have been following for a long time had to say on the whole social entrepreneurship thing:

To start, i have had a problem with the frame of “social entrepreneurship” as it is generally an elitist frame. “Cultural entrepreneurship” would seem to dig the hole deeper…. Who but the privileged? Do we not as humans all want to make a positive impact with our efforts? Lots of my colleagues living on less than $5 a day make a difference in their community with their enterprise, but wouldn’t be seen in this priviledged air. As this term has gained currency from funders, I find myself grudgingly in a growing market established itself around this “social entrepreneurship” frame. Secondly, as a change agent and an academic trained in cultural anthropology, the frame of “cultural entrepreneurship” as an innovation newly born in the context of capitalism is so disconnected from the many bodies of good work by practitioners in applied social sciences, that I don’t even want to get started.

Elitist! Feeding on others misery. Making money off it. Asking for their stories so they can manipulate them and do business. Make the next million for the VC breathing down their necks for return. If this is how I wanted to sell – telling sob-stories about my team – I’d be well on my way to making it into the Big League. BUT I AM NOT SELLING ANYONE’S DIGNITY FOR DOING BUSINESS! This is the whole idea behind WDL. Hire us because we are good at what we do. Not because of issues in our personal lives that you can milk for your next CSR campaign.

My way may not be the way taught by professors in universities. My way may also not be the fastest way. But I’ll get there and will keep my humanity intact as well.

For now, I go back to listening to soppy 80s songs and picking up online fights with random people over nothing.

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2 thoughts on “Social Enterprises – Disillusionment

  1. For me, if the essence of what I am doing is lost then its worth nothing. I had a really bad experience of working with a so-called social enterprise based in the US. It took me a while to notice what they were doing – selling pity stories from people far away who were so desperately in need of work and in most cases unaware of their rights to dignity being violated they kept their silence. That’s not gonna happen for me at WDL. It’s really tough when you are surrounded by people who have turned into teller machines. But luckily I am working a with a handful who are as passionate about WDL and doing it the right way as I am. Let’s see!

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