January 17, 2020

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Why Your Social Enterprise Is Not Going to Save the World

"From my designer jeans to the plastic in my backpack, I am addicted to oil."


by Danielle Lanyard

Yes, you read that right. I’m the most positive person I know, and yet, I have to say it because I have realized after working in the social enterprise sector for over a decade that none of the current social enterprises alone, mine included, will save us from our current growth model and reliance on fossil fuels.

It’s a sobering thought, but one that I’ve come to time and again as I work on taking my startup to financial and societal impact ‘success,’ figure out how to pay the bills and somehow make the world better for the future seven generations in the process.

All in a day’s work!

Let’s examine the huge gap between ‘theory’ and ‘practice.' I’ll use my startup and myself as an example. 

Social Enterprise: Theory vs. Practice

Green Breakfast Club was founded by yours truly in 2011 with the mission of ‘saving the world’ by helping entrepreneurs share resources to grow their social and green startups, and build capacity for their local green business communities. As we near the two-year mark, I concede that we still don’t Green Breakfast Clubhave a business model. I am yet to start paying myself a salary. I have not been on a proper date in years. And still, my bank account, gently weeps.

Recently we decided to expand the Club to London and Nairobi. We did it on a shoestring, a leap of faith, and a whole lot of crazy for a bootstrapping startup. But it paid off. We planted seeds in each of these communities, and are now slowly building our way up from a dream, down from the clouds and into the ground, where we can grow a whole new way of doing business and collaborating to heal the planet, and ourselves. 

But are we really making a difference?

Once a week, I’ll receive an email from a fellow Green Breakfast Club attendee telling me how our work helped them out or changed their lives - and the entire struggle just melts away in the shadow of my own ego.

But what about those seven generations and saving the world? Am I really making a dent? Is the Club actually the most effective action I could take to improve social and ecological conditions on this planet?

Fossil Fuels: Social Enterprise's Biggest Challenge Yet?

Here's why I ask: before taking the step to go global, I discovered a profound truth:

I needed oil, coal and fossil fuels, more than I needed my own startup product. From my designer jeans to the plastic in my backpack to the glass on my laptop screen to the subway I love to take, I am not only addicted to oil but I’ve never ever been able to launch a product whose value I needed more than my demand for, and the value I derive from, using oil or coal on a daily basis.

And so began a whole new journey over the last six months, where I put as much effort into my own work as I do in sincerely becoming a better person, asking how I can have the greatest impact, as opposed to seeing my agenda realized. Why does this shift even matter in the world of social enterprise?  And why did I open up this post by raining on every social entrepreneur's parade by declaring them ineffective?

Because the house is on fire, and very few initiatives in the world of social enterprise do anything to actually subvert the dominant paradigms: endless growth model, uncurbed human consumption, the global corporatization of politics and government, the dominance of fossil fuels in every corner of the worldly ways.

Look at the list of winners of any social enterprise fellowship contest over the last few years. How many of them are going to bring down Big Oil? Big Ag? Big Food? Or the massive reliance on fossil fuels that is polluting our planet and imperiling our future?

None. Not even my own.

The Future: Is Your Approach to "Change" Really Shifting Our World's Dynamics?

And so it’s time to have a grand reckoning, and to really stir things up!  To become our greatest, most radical, innovative and disruptive selves, and to weave our beauty with the most effective initiatives the world over. And guess what?

The odds are, the brilliant idea just may not come from you.

And that’s okay. Let’s get over ourselves. Let’s stop talking, grand standing and pedestalling social entrepreneurshipourselves, and really look at this world and ask ourselves the question that our hearts and our planet, and our collective shared universe require most: How can I be of service?

And then, take action! Read the works of the leaders who founded this movement before it was one, and start listening to the folks who are both living their lives in service and changing the world in the process.

Read everything Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Fritjof Capra, Paul Hawken, and Buckminster Fuller ever wrote. Pay attention to the cutting edge work of people like Ethical Markets' Hazel Henderson, Janine Benyus of Biomimicry, and their collaboration on financing based on ethics and life principles, Mariana Bozesan and Aqal Capital that incorporates the Integral method, Jeffrey Hollender’s new initiative for sustainable contraception and charitable women and children education, the B Corp movement, and cities divesting from fossil fuels.

Things are changing, albeit slowly, and we are the ones behind this great turning, as well as the slow pace with which it, and capitalism, burns.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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