Unable to sleep this week, I’ve taken to watching Flipping Boston and Flipping Vegas. These shows chronicle the process of entrepreneurs who flip distressed houses. Over the course of a few weeks, the houses transform from dilapidated shacks to pristine palace-like homes. And, of course, the entrepreneurs make a nice profit.
As I watch this, I have to ask. . . Is flipping houses a social enterprise?
In a nutshell, the criteria for social enterprise are:
- Profit motive
- Social mission
- Results/impact oriented
Technically, “House Flippers” would qualify. They have a profit motive (cha-ching!). They offer a social good (improved home prices, neighborhood beautification). And they have clear, measurable results (increased value of house and neighborhood).
But if we consider them social entrepreneurs, shouldn’t we consider all business as such? After all, the addition of any job to the economy is a welcome — and much needed — social benefit.
Yet many might take offense to thinking of “House Flippers” as social entrepreneurs. In some ways, so would I.
Something is clearly missing in our definition of social enterprise and it has to do with #2: Social Mission.
In the case of my late night TV shows, the social good is there. The neighborhood looks better. Property values increase for all residents. The construction provides job opportunities. However, the social good is a byproduct of the profit motive. The entrepreneurs don’t (presumably) start out with the goal in mind to add value to anything other than their own pocket books.
I think we hold (or at least want to hold) social enterprise and social entrepreneurs to a higher standard. But how do we do this?
- Should the social mission be more, less, or equally important to the profit motive?
- Should the intended beneficiaries be consulted?
- Should the entrepreneurs do market research regarding the need they attempt to fulfill?
- Should the entrepreneurs do market research into other organizations attempting to meet the need both locally and across the country?
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself every day.
Our current definition of social enterprise needs to stretch enough to encompass the moral and ethical implications of doing good. Yet stretching the definition is not as easy as it looks.