When I talk to colleagues about social needs and social entrepreneurship, about making profit not just in terms of money, but also social profit, the reactions are most of all very positive. People like these ideas, independent from which kind of career level they have reached. The meaningfulness of acting and changing for a better world is what we all are interested in. “I get inspired by hearing about all these fascinating ideas”, this and similar comments I hear often by CEOs and senior managers. And indeed, they are. They like the ideas, the way of doing, the potential to do more than just gaining money. We all know about the huge needs in the world.
But then … there is the gap between vision, wish, social engagement and the business world.
The gap between business expectations and social engagement
Profit growth. That’s the way of how business has been done in the past and is still defined. The eternal growth of profit. The pressure of being part of the economic world. If you want your business to be successful, you need to satisfy the shareholders, to grow and to buy – raw materials, good ideas, technological development. Everything costs money. You do not need to be an economist for being able to understand. Just switch on the TV – money means power, money is needed to solve the problems of today. More money for paying health care, retirees, unemployed people, child care, disabled people and the emerging markets … Without money even social entrepreneurs can not do anything at a large scale. Therefore, a business without money is not sustainable.
The missing bridge between social and business understanding
The main problem is not too less people that understand social needs. It is not too less people who want to be good, engage and invest in social activities. It is the missing bridge between business as usually understood and social engagement that is difficult to combine when it comes to social integration into the core business. The daily business requires results as usual, ROI, numbers, facts. What counts by end of the day is what has counted over the last decades: the financial results. If you ask people to describe business, they will probably not talk about social engagement but about finance and on how to make money.
As long as media and economists define business mainly as a profit oriented entity, as long as profit is counted in numbers (money) and payments are always based on money transfers, the gap will continue to exist and just see social engagement as a secondary activity – some engage more, some less depending on their financial profit and willingness to engage.
Taking social into the core business is often too risky
Integrating the social aspect into the core business could mean to have less financial profit – short term effect. Our business world today is fully short-term oriented. Profit leads to engagement, not viceversa, and not parallely. If you change the heart of doing business and focus on social (putting it at the same level or even put social engagement before financial profit) , it is risky. Better to continue as usual and to give (also a huge) donation – once the profit is guaranteed. A social benefit is seen as a secondary effect. Many are willing to engage and do good – if a financial output is given. But not if it becomes too risky for profit – be it for the company, be it for the individual business manager. It is understandable, isn’t it?
I mean not everyone is willing to become a visionary person at any cost , e.g. the cost of loosing the job or the own firm. Everyone is open to social engagement, as long as it does not have impact on the business as usual.
There are many people and managers, too, who are actively involved in social activities, often they do it besides their jobs – as volunteers and in their private time. Volunteering is good, do not get me wrong. And social engagement of every size is helpful.
But as long as we do not integrate social engagement into the core business it will be somehow remain the ‘little sister’ of business. The solution?
I am not sure how to get it. However, we need to focus much more on solutions on how social can be part of the business activities, be it in marketing campaigns, in shaping business projects and defining annual goals. Integration of both worlds into one and another understanding of business value – that’s what we should look for and where more changemakers are needed.
Just think, what would be possible if the little sister called social became a real part of core business…