Ashni Mohnot wrote a fascinating and fairly provocative blog post on “Who’s in the social entrepreneurship club… and who isn’t.

The post, which I found somewhat unsettling, garnered such attention that I felt a need to respond.  This is part 3.  Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here.

III. The Developing World: Excluded from the Intellectual Conversation

“Are the only innovations in social entrepreneurship Anglo-Saxon?” asked Rod Schwartz, CEO of ClearlySo, sparking a lively debate on SocialEdge, the premier online hub for social entrepreneurship. Forum participants struggled with his controversial but timely question; many had just returned from the 2009 Skoll World Forum where they noticed that a majority of the speakers and panelists were Caucasian. They wondered – why weren’t more attendees from diverse racial, linguistic, and national backgrounds present?…Why are the voices of talented social entrepreneurs scattered across the globe rarely heard in the hottest online community of practitioners in the field? While over-representation of Caucasians is unsurprising in most fields, it is tragically ironic for this to be true in social entrepreneurship, especially in efforts to support international development.

What Ashni and others seem to be lamenting here is not the lack of existence (social entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds are plentiful) but the limited visibility of non-WASP or non-“Western” social entrepreneurs.  I’ll lament with them, but only kind of.

First, it is absolutely unacceptable that ground-breaking social entrepreneurs outside the US and the UK might be left out of the conversation simply because they have not been invited or given a reasonable opportunity to participate.  I don’t know to what extent this is the case, but it’s entirely feasible and is an issue we all need to be aware of.

However, it’s also likely that many of the social enterprises that are achieving scale and notoriety are doing so because they are based in the US and the UK, where the support network for social enterprise is much larger and growing, and where there is a more ready pool of highly skilled talent ready to staff these endeavors.

That’s not to say that it is acceptable that more resources aren’t available to social entrepreneurs in less developed countries.  However, we need to remember that social entrepreneurship is about a hand up, not a hand0ut.  The ultimate solution is not coming to the rescue by providing American resources to Senegalese social entrepreneurs, for example. We need to support processes and policies in developed countries that will create friendly environments for social business and eco-systems capable of supporting local entrepreneurship.  In other words, the goal should not be a more diverse set of entrepreneurs at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, but the rise of African, Asian, 0r Latin American-based Skoll equivalents that will host their own forums that outpace and out-impress those held by us in the US and UK.

This may mean that we wait another decade or two, but I do believe that the alternative threatens to lead us down the same ineffective path of dependence and dis-empowerment that brought us to social enterprise as a solution in the first place.

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