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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.


Ashni Mohnot wrote a fascinating and fairly provocative blog post at PopTech 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 2.  Part 1 can be found here.

II. Young Graduates: Square Pegs in Round Holes

Opportunities in the field also seem to be limited to positions either requiring many years of experience or roles that are unpaid… Even tech giants like Google or major consulting firms like McKinsey offer positions of great responsibility like the Associate Product Manager or Business Analyst roles to college graduates, preferring to train employees in-house to ensure excellence. Why don’t social ventures (or even traditional nonprofits) do the same?… Given that young graduates, especially those who opted for nonprofit careers, are often armed with world-changing passion, it is unfortunate that so few avenues exist for them to channel their energy into the world of social entrepreneurship that thrives on the drive to make a difference.

The conundrum faced by younger people who are not professionally trained (not nurses, architects, engineers, etc.) is an old one and nothing unique to this space.  Speaking again from my own experience… I was trained in a liberal arts setting and, like all my liberal arts friends, left school feeling hugely capable of something, but unsure of what that something was.  In addition, as Ashni states, nearly every interesting-sounding job out there either paid nothing or required five years of experience.  So despite my academic credentials and internship and volunteer experience, finding a first job was, for me, hell.

It’s true, there are lots of large organizations like Google and McKinsey that do have more traditional entry-level career tracks that are designed to provide training and mentorship to young employees.  However, this is a luxury that fewer and fewer companies, smaller enterprises in particular, can afford.

It’s not a matter of not caring or not wanting to help younger professionals get their feet wet (though companies often do invest a considerable amount in developing new hires, only to have them leave after a couple of years).  Rather, it’s simply the case that smaller companies and start-ups don’t have the resources or infrastructure to support these kinds of jobs. Young companies need experienced, independent, “hit the ground running” types of recruits who can help get their organization off the ground.

So, again, I agree it’s unfortunate that more young people’s desires to change the world aren’t effectively channeled into interesting and well-paying jobs with up-and-coming social enterprises.  But this is not a matter of exclusion.  It’s a matter of practicality and necessity.

The fact that we must find ways to use these people’s passions and gifts, and in the process get them valuable job training, is indisputable.  We just can’t assume that social enterprises will be the avenue for achieving that.

Ashni Mohnot wrote a fascinating and fairly provocative blog post at PopTech 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.

Ashni organizes her post around three major categories. I’ll do the same here, addressing each in order, but in different posts.  Also, I’ll incorporate quotes from her post to give readers the gist of her arguments and tee up my response.  If taking words out of context plucks them of their intended meaning, I apologize. It’s certainly not the intent.  Readers are encouraged to read Ashni’s full post – again, here.

I. “MBA Preferred”

Social ventures, the funds and foundations supporting them, and other socially entrepreneurial organizations are in love with MBAs… I understand that the MBAs bring to the role the business acumen these enterprises value…Of course, traditional nonprofit workers will probably require some business training to work effectively in socially entrepreneurial organizations. However, MBAs will also likely require training on the social issues the organizations are targeting. It is probably no more arduous to give entrepreneurial nonprofit workers a crash course in business than it is to give socially-minded MBAs a crash course in sociology or anthropology. Why then is it comparatively tougher for nonprofit workers to enter this field than it is for MBAs?

Frankly, I think Ashni’s argument here misses the point.  Are MBA’s overrated?  Sometimes, yes.  Is requiring “MBA or equivalent experience” irrational or somehow discriminatory?  I don’t think so.

First of all, MBA programs more and more frequently require several years of work experience.  So “MBA preferred” is another way of asking for people who have both 1) knowledge of and experience with the internal workings and operations of for-profit organizations and 2) some advanced training in business-related theory and practices.  This is a hugely valuable skillset for a small and growing business and is not something acquired through a bit of training – it takes years.

Secondly, MBA’s will generally have a much broader base of business knowledge to work from than a typical college grad or someone with only non-profit experience. But what’s often more important than “business acumen” is the fact that they may bring a reasonable level of expertise in a niche area that a social enterprise requires.  Knowledge of finance and financial modeling is a good example.  While these are trainable skills, they are 1) seldom taught in non-profits (at least in my experience) and 2) it would be both foolish and wasteful for a growing social enterprise to hire someone without this experience in the hopes that they could just pick it up.

But what about the knowledge of the social issues?  I have two responses along those lines.  First, one of the beauties of organizations is that they allow specialization. If my work in consulting has taught me anything, it’s that only particular people in particular jobs actually require deep knowledge of the customer issues the company handles.  People can be enormously valuable to the organization for the technical and general management skills they bring (VP IT, Director Marketing, HR Generalist, Financial Analyst), even if they don’t know boo about the subject matter.

Finally, and on a personal note, as someone who has a degree in sociology, deep knowledge of particular social issues, and who has spent the last four years in business development and consulting roles in the for-profit sector, I can tell you that learning “business acumen” is nothing to take lightly.  It’s easy to dismiss this skill set, but the combination of legal, marketing, business development, strategy, people management, finance, and other specialty knowledge that is required to build business acumen makes business administration a very complex profession.  It should be taken as seriously as, say, learning nursing or mastering a fine art.

So where does that leave those without MBAs or similar experience?  What about people with non-profit backgrounds? That’s a good question.  Without a doubt, there are hugely valuable skillsets to be leveraged there, as well, but to what extent and how will depend on the social enterprise, I think.  What we do know is that a desire to make a social impact may be a coveted, transferable value, but it’s not a transferable skill.


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