Predicting the Future of Social Entrepreneurship

via @Forbes

It’s that time of the year – everyone’s making lists of the best and worst of the past year, predicting what the future holds in the coming year, and trying to identify the trends that have defined – and will continue to define – social, cultural and economic activity in pretty much every sector. I must admit that I find most of these lists useless, if not downright annoying, but there are always some real gems hidden amidst all the nonsense. One of the best I’ve come across so far this year is this prediction of five trends in the future of Social Entrepreneurship for next year, by Eli Malinsky, the executive director of the new Centre for Social Innovation in New York City.

1.) Social entrepreneurship will dissolve as a distinct discipline
Don’t be alarmed – this is a good thing. Right now, social entrepreneurship is treated as a discipline in its own right. For the moment, this is a welcome situation, drawing attention and resources to the social sector while stimulating new frameworks and new enterprises. But through the coming years we’ll see social entrepreneurship woven into the very fabric of existing disciplines, becoming an integral lens through which we understand all sectors and fields of study. The mainstreaming of social enterprise means its disappearance as a distinct activity and will, ultimately, lead to the systemic shifts necessary for broad-scale social change.

2.) Assumptions of high profit margins will be recalibrated to the realities of mission-based enterprise

Enthusiasm around impact investing continues to grow. And an increasing number of social entrepreneurs are convinced that they can make money and find meaning in their work. The good news is that the social sector will prove that enterprises can be financially sustainable, even profitable. The bad news is that optimistic assumptions around profit margins will encounter a hard reality check. Succeeding in business is very difficult. Succeeding in a business with an integrated social mission is doubly so. Despite the occasional success story, social entrepreneurs and impact investors will have to get used to thinner profit margins that will, generally speaking, have an inverse relationship to social impact.

3.) The greatest social change will be unleashed by moving the corporate needle
The surge of enthusiasm for new social ventures is astonishing. All around us, social entrepreneurs are creating new projects poised for growth and impact. These initiatives are laudatory and necessary – and definitely part of the picture. But the substantive impact we need to avoid catastrophe and reconfigure existing systems will be achieved far more through incremental shifts in corporate behavior than through revolutionary ones in the nonprofit or entrepreneurial sectors.

4.) Social impact assessment will become more sophisticated and fully integrated into organizational analysis

Social impact assessment continues to make strides in measuring and articulating the results of social change projects. As donors and investors demand clarity of impacts in an increasingly crowded market, new models and tools for social impact measurement will continue to be developed. As with the dissolution of social entrepreneurship as a distinct discipline, social impact assessment will no longer be a supplement or alternative to existing tools for organizational assessment, but an integrated and essential feature of any robust product or service analysis.

5.) Impermanence and constant reconfiguration define the career arc of aspiring social entrepreneurs

This should come as no surprise to those who have been observing broader trends in employment and independence. MBO Partners reports that there are nearly 17 million members of America’s ‘independent workforce’, a number predicted to rise to 23 million in the next five years. Social entrepreneurs are not immune to this change in workplace patterns and may be even more susceptible given the emerging and evolving nature of the sector. Individuals planning to make a living through social entrepreneurship should brace themselves for a career marked by frequent changes in employment and a constant reconfiguration of skills and teams, each assembled for different tasks at given times.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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