In May, Heron’s chairman offered his views on why enterprises should be measured for their social performance “untethered from corporate identity or tax status.” However, Hogan argues such an approach “could unintentionally do more harm than good“:
The last thing the nascent “social impact” movement needs is to be equalized, because in being so treated, it becomes co-opted and inconsequential. “Nothing happening here, folks; move along….” While it is true that definitions of and approaches to social enterprise are still in flux, as they are at the beginning stages of any major change to established understandings and protocols, the emerging work in social enterprise does not undertake enterprise as enterprise has always been undertaken. (I should note that I am referring mainly to the “benefit corporation,” or L3C.)
This is an evolutionary period for capitalism—a “next phase” of practice. And as it took decades and generations for it to change to this point, so it will take as long as evolution takes for it to change from this point. The evolution of this system of enterprise is natural, normal, and inevitable. I even hesitate to say that it is “revolutionary,” as some have. So while saying that “all enterprise is social” may be accurate as a statement of fact, insofar as any activity in which humans interact is social, within the context of the evolution that many are seeking it becomes a statement of capitulation, of equivocation. “We are all alike, and therefore we are all friends and allies, and we all want the same things.”
But the central issue here is that we don’t all want the same things. Even such fundamental concepts as peace, love, and understanding are pretty difficult for the military-industrial complex to pursue very seriously, even if the majority of individuals who work within it profess to want such things. And in a “regular” for-profit enterprise, focused on maximizing revenue over cost for the benefit of a limited number of shareholders, it’s difficult to “want” equitable wages, sustainable environmental practices, or comprehensive employee wellness initiatives. And I would hasten to add here that this is as it should be. For the for-profit entrepreneur, operating within the systems accepted and promoted by this society, it’s what they signed up for. Their intention, at the outset, was to maximize wealth for themselves and their investors and stakeholders. That’s fair…
But in my view, until we develop the methods he outlines, and until they are adopted as general practice by a majority of enterprises, the social enterprise movement, as it is intended to be developed by the “conscious investors” he cites, will be (and already is) at tremendous risk of being dissipated, co-opted by the financial system and its “canon” by those who currently benefit from it to astonishing degrees. Many people view social enterprise as a threat, a limit to their ability to earn. It will take years, perhaps a generation or two, of time, effort, diligence, manoeuvring, wrangling, and all-out legal wars to “change the canon.” But even the eventual creation of acceptable ways to measure impact for each type of capital an enterprise generates would not make a dent in the intention of an enterprise’s shareholders to become socially beneficial. For it is intention that needs to evolve, not simply ways to measure this or that impact. As noted, we don’t all want the same things, which is as it should be. But it is what the founders and workers and shareholders and stakeholders of social enterprises intend to provide, and expect to receive, from their activity that will make it more beneficial to community and society. And that is fundamentally different work, from different canons, in different rooms, and at different conferences.
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