Ombion: On social enterprise


IF THERE is anything that occupies the interests of today’s generation of non-government organizations (NGOs) it is no other than social enterprise, or social entrepreneurship.

In fact, many of them now claim that they are the new generation of social entrepreneurs in the service of social development.

From a number of practices and discourses, social enterprise mean differently to different groups and people, yet some common themes can be gleaned from these, e.g. social innovations, NGOs as social enterprises, community enterprises, bottom-of-the-pyramid activities, and corporate social responsibility.

The following are my categorization of those who claim they are engaged in social enterprise or are social entrepreneurs: those engaged in non-earning income activities with the use of donor fund, grants or endowment fund to help improve the quality of life of the poor like livelihood projects, shelter, environmental protection, farm tools, post-harvest facilities, micro financing, among others.

There are also those who engage in income-generating activities e.g. manufacturing, sustainable agriculture, selling/marketing of products, product development, micro financing/credit, and consultancy services - to finance sustainably their organizational operations and services aimed at improving the quality of life of the poor.

I also count those traditional corporate businesses for profits, but use a small fraction of their profit which they call corporate social responsibility “for the benefits of selected poor communities.”

Nevertheless, regardless of different orientations and practices, this thing is now viewed my many as one of the possible solutions to a number of interlinked social problems.

Social enterprise is a concept that has evolved among business companies who want to return a percentage of their profit to the consumers and their partner organizations and communities , and the NGOs and POs, particularly, the third generation; the first and second generations being pure humanitarian-dole out, then became social-reformist, respectively.

Among the NGOs it grew out of their concern beyond acting as “substitute” of the state in areas where its presence is hardly felt, while keeping a role of being critic of the state where there’s a need to right their wrong or poor governance.

It also clear to them that social enterprise is not simply alleviating the poor and the deprived, but providing micro models of sustainable community development of communities.

It is now a consensus among the practitioners that social enterprise must be geared towards transforming the life of marginalized sector. It provides them with economic activity that enable them to earn a decent living a day, skills that enhance their capacity to grow and develop, social orientation that will restore their dignity and sense of cooperation with others.

Social enterprise works with the market-driven business environment. But it is unlike the capitalist businesses known for their profit-raking orientation, owned and managed by a few, capital-intensive, monopolistic in business practices, penchant for accumulating the fruits of collective labor, negligent of environmental effects of the business, and highly secretive of its financial operations.

As such, social enterprise generates money, not raising funds, without exploiting people and undermining work and business ethics standards. It need not accumulate big profits. It must be fair in its business practices, gender sensitive and ecologically sound business platform. All it needs is to generate “just enough” wherewithal to sustain the needs of its operations, carry out its programs and services, and achieve goals one step at a time.

Social enterprise makes people and organizations earn, save and spend for needs and sparing on wants.

For NGOs that dedicate their lives to people’s aspirations and interests, social enterprise now plays a vital role in their long term survival, sustainability of services, and the promotion of such important worker’s values as stakeholdership, hard work, accountability, and frugality in lifestyles.

In Negros, we have a dozen or so NGOs and POs which have successfully transformed themselves into social enterprises. I will dwell later into some concrete experiences and lessons from some of them.

I must make it clear that small development work for alleviation of people’s miseries is not a permanent substitute to the imperative of changing, reforming, overhauling social and political structures that dictate and perpetuate a whole gamut of structural injustice.


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