Last night I briefly attended a wine-tasting event at a top Toronto resto. I don’t even drink wine, but the event was in honour of old friends of mine: Dignitas International. Little over a year ago, I was in Malawi with them, filming their work on the ground battling HIV/AIDS during a threatened famine.
So as I watched my resulting film The Bicycle, on a loop projected on the wall by the bar last night, I was acutely reminded of the tidal wave of social entrepreneurship washing over the western world. Here I was in a room full of people actively supporting the fight against AIDS in the developing world – and they were all in pin-striped suits and ties, sipping on pinot grigio.
Dignitas’ James Fraser and James Orbinski aren’t the first venture social entrepreneurs I’ve known. Gillian Caldwell of Witness (featured in a film I made with pw), was called “A Do-Gooder with a Spreadsheet” by The New York Times last month, during her 4th visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Social Entrepreneurism is the application of market capitalism to make the world a better place. The focus is not just on the collective good, but also on individual return. In Social Entrprenueurism, high-risk investment can bring about tangible, annual returns: Feeling Good simply by Doing Good is definitely one, but the language of success also demands a huge focus on Positive Outcomes. Results. Accomplishments.
So Social Entrepreneurs come out with annual reports that often make multi-national corporations look like amateur dabblers, with pie charts, stats, multi-media powerpoint presentations in crisp, rational terms that “just make sense”. But instead of measuring profit, they’re measuring saved lives, changed laws, improved health, or literacy rates and positive social, political interventions.
But Social Entrepreneurism also illuminates the urgent and heavy reality that government and taxation is just not a reality for solving the world’s ills. Especially on a global scale.
Ironically, though, a lot of the “positive outcomes” of social entrepreneurism are about building government and infrastructure in the developing world. James Fraser told me in Malawi last year: ‘We can’t solve the AIDS crisis in the world without a government.” And a lot of the goals that social entrepreneurs strive for are about pushing for legislative and judicial change. So it really is ironic that in the north, we’ve become so cynical, skeptical about government.
Now I gotta run. To a meeting - in yet another twist of irony in this blog post - with one of this town’s best corporate fundraisers! More on that soon.
The Bicycle at the bar last night.
Add comment February 21st, 2007