What's the future of social entrepreneurship? At this very moment, Ashoka's founder, Bill Drayton, is giving his predictions in an interview with David Bornstein from The New York Times. But what do you think? Give your say on Twitter using the hashtag #FutureSocEnt, and your thoughts will feed into the event and a post-event summary. To get the conversation started, I share five themes below. Tweet if you agree!
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.
This piece originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Follow Eli Malinsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@csisl