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Entries in social enterprise (3)


Conscious Capitalism AND Social Enterprise Is Conscious Business

There are two movements in business today that are highly related yet very disconnected – conscious capitalism and social enterprise. These two movements are actually quite similar when viewed from a whole system perspective – more aware AND responsible business. Taken together, conscious capitalism and social enterprise create conscious businesses with the potential to solve big problems through business while generating a sustainable future.

The conscious capitalism movement appears to be primarily focused on relationships, stakeholders and leadership practices. This is transformative work and deserves all the praise and attention the movement has received. Yet, it is not enough. When an individual embarks on a journey of transformation and develops a higher awareness (consciousness), they almost always begin to see themselves as part of a greater whole and over time start to make decisions about their lifestyle, habits and consumption aligned with more sustainable practices – seeing themselves as part of the whole, they act for the collective good. 

I do not see the same development when I look at the conscious capitalism movement, particularly two companies hailed as the leaders of the movement – Whole Foods and The Container Store. When shopping these stores, neither feels different to me. Back to the example of an individual’s journey of transformation and deeper awareness, it does not appear that the consciousness of these two businesses has yet translated into the same level of whole system thinking. Their conscious awareness has not led to greater responsibility. When it does, I would expect to see sourcing strategies, merchandising decisions, packaging materials, marketing campaigns and other decisions approached from a higher awareness and collective perspective. Walking into these stores you will immediately know that they are not in business as usual – their “inner” growth will be obvious in their outer appearance and actions.

Social enterprises, on the other hand, are using business to make a difference – solving big problems and impacting people’s lives. Yet they tend to do that with traditional business tools, management practices and organizational structures. Operating with greater responsibility, these social enterprises often are not functioning with deeper awareness. Their right and sustainable actions are not supported by conscious business practices.

We need both – more aware AND responsible businesses. Sustainability is not simply a green movement of incremental actions alone; we also need radical new thinking and changes in business that accelerates progress to a sustainable future – what I call blue thinking. These conscious businesses have greater awareness and deploy systems-level, whole-perspective thinking to consider the full impact and all consequences of its actions. They relate more consciously through new organizational structures and manage with deeper awareness through innovative management tools that integrate meaning-making and money-making so that mission is top of mind and integral to the organization’s strategy. This shift to more aware AND responsible conscious businesses would make doing good (impact) as important as doing well (profit), all while solving some of our biggest challenges, creating jobs and enabling a sustainable future.


Social Enterprise and The Evolution of Business Consciousness

There are many perspectives on what is a Social Enterprise. At its purest definition, Social Enterprises are those organizations that are impact first with a focus on meaning making that generates a sustaining cash flow. In this way, moneymaking is secondary to the impact of the organization’s mission. The purpose of its moneymaking endeavors is to sustain the organization’s operations and ensure the ongoing delivery of its mission to achieve its desired impact. Yet, Social Enterprises are more complex than this and I would suggest exist along a continuum that mirrors the path of human conscious evolution.

In addition to the definition above, there are two other places of note along the continuum of Social Enterprise. The first is the entry point where a business organization adopts an outward facing mission and institutes core values that are demonstrated in action. The outward facing mission has its focus on the customer experience through delivery of the organization’s product or service rather than on profit goals or growth objectives. Further, it is not enough for these businesses to have a set of core values; those entering the continuum of Social Enterprise have demonstrated them in the actions of their leaders and across the organization.

The second point of note on the continuum is where the business organization gains awareness of the greater eco-system in which it operates. This triple bottom-line perspective considers people and planet as well as profits for a broad consideration of its social, economic and environmental impact. In this way, the business organization is mindful of and demonstrates responsibility to all its stakeholders. From here, the final point on the continuum is the purest definition shared earlier.

Interestingly, this mirrors the path we take as humans toward greater awareness and higher consciousness from connection with our values and a sense of purpose to greater awareness of our environment and those we share this experience with to a sincere desire to be of service, giving back in some way and making a positive impact that leaves this earth and its inhabitants a bit better than we found them.

Just as it is with our individual transformation, taking that first step into alignment with its values and identification with a greater sense of purpose begins a process for the business organization that I believe quite naturally and organically continues to evolve along this continuum of Social Enterprise as a better future is created through business.


A Vision for a New Economy

As a sustainable future is contemplated, it becomes apparent that a new economy is also needed – one that allows us to thrive individually and collectively while solving some of our greatest challenges. And while we may not yet know what this looks like or how it might work specifically, there are glimpses beginning to emerge. Let’s look first at some characteristics this new economy might have.

An emerging new economy that would also create a better future has several key elements:

  • Deeply connected with our selves – starts with the best of who we are as individuals and how we can bring that forward in a way that creates value for everyone. 
  • Based in community – this deep connection with our selves is then extended out in our communities to decentralize and re-localize the economy in a way that creates a strong sense of place. 
  • Sustainable and sustaining – greater connection with place, based in community, provides the mandate for creating a sustainable existence for the community and its people. 
  • Generative – with the capacity for originating new ideas and solutions. 
  • An entire eco-system view – considering all stakeholders and the various forms of capital as an inter-related system that functions optimally when considered as a whole.

A Convergence of Ideas

While a new economy is not yet fully manifest, there are some emerging ideas that when combined shift the paradigm, creating the real possibility for a sustainable economic future.

  • Community Capital – is an expanded view of capital, beyond merely financial assets and includes natural, human and built capital.
  • Local Investing – shifts our investment dollars from Wall Street and large, publically traded corporations (where those investments simply move money around) back into the small businesses of our own communities where those investment dollars actually create jobs, grow the local economy and strengthen the community.
  • Social Enterprises – are those businesses that bring the impact of meaning-making to the business of making money. In so doing, these enterprises solve real problems in the community and eventually across the entire world while also creating jobs and real wealth.
  • Impact Investing – brings another dimension to investment returns that includes the expectation of having an impact as well as making a financial return. Impact investors align their investments with their values, providing capital to social enterprises that are creating value while solving problems.

The convergence of these four ideas – an expanded view of capital where people are investing locally and also aligned with their values while expecting to make an impact through social enterprises – provides the very real means to solve our greatest challenges, create a better future and obsolete an economy that more often than not benefits a very few while creating problems for the greater environment that significantly impacts a sustainable future.

How This Shift Might Happen

I believe this shift is already happening and it begins with food. The local food movement has reconnected people with place and those who grow, harvest and produce their food. As people eat locally and connect more strongly with their community, they also begin to buy local and support the businesses and merchants in their own community. These connections create real relationships, as people personally know who is growing their food, producing their merchandise and operating the businesses they rely upon. 

With relationship comes a genuine interest in these business and a desire to see them succeed so that when they need capital for new equipment or to expand you might consider investing in them. Eating locally has become buying local and transitioned into local investing with the potential for a paradigm shift into an entirely new economy.