I am a bit more cynical than most social entrepreneurs, but no less optimistic. I started and closed Citizen Effect for financial reasons, however at the end of the day, I wasn’t doing anything other than generating good “I’m saving the world” anecdotes. Let’s be very clear – the role of a social entrepreneur is just that – to save the world, nothing more; nothing less.
We all have to be very clear about the time in which we are living. Climate change, water shortages, food shortages, the threat of wide-spread infectious diseases, and other global threats challenge human life on this planet as we know it. Not in the future, but right now. Actually, yesterday. The difficult truth is we have created an unsustainable economic, social and political system that draws so greatly on the environment, that massive ecological systems human kind has marveled at for millennia are now failing all around us. Our society isn’t unsustainable around the fringes, but at its very core.
That sounds dramatic, but it is something we all (assuming you are not a climate change denier) know to be true. Which is why I find it very troubling that when I ask my friends if they believe in climate change, they say emphatically say “yes!” But when I then follow up with “then you – the hybrid car-driving, TOMS wearing, fair-trade coffee drinking consumer – are the problem,” they get all pissy with me and tell me I am going overboard. And to be honest, I often get this way with myself. But the math, the science and the logic all point to the same place – we, as a species, are killing ourselves off by killing our host – planet Earth. And people you know – you kids, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc. – are going to get to experience a big part of it.
The troubling prevailing logic is that we can consume our way out of this problem, as long as the products and services we consume are “green.” This would be laughable if it wasn’t such a widely held belief.
STOP! Just stop. And think.
Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
The consumer-based, free market system and the wealth it has created (for some, like those of you reading this blog, and the one writing it) is so all pervasive that we don’t even realize we are using a sledge hammer to try and solve every problem. We know that businesses create negative externalities that cost society dearly (e.g., fossil fuels), yet we are asking businesses to save the world. We have an amnesia that causes us to forget that Gandhi wasn’t a CEO. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t the Director of Communications. And Rosa Parks didn’t own the bus company.
The business sector has an important place in our society, but it is not society. It’s ironic that the three rules of successful investing are diversify, diversify, diversify, yet when it comes to solving the world’s problems, we are now putting all our eggs in the consumer-driven, free market basket. Go to any of the major conferences claiming to address the world’s most challenging problems – The World Economic Forum; The Clinton Global Initiative; The SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing; SOCAP and others – and they preach two things – we must address “root causes,” and social enterprise and corporate social responsibility can address those root causes.
But wait. The root causes is over consumption, so how in the world can more consumption solve the problem?!
So what is a social entrepreneur supposed to do? Simple – break shit. Excuse the language, but that should be the social entrepreneurs mantra. Break the existing system and find ways to create new systems, new ways of doing things. Stop finding ways for people to buy things to address their needs, but eliminate their needs to buy things in the first place. Re-think the market. Re-think the government. Re-think it all. And please, for the sake of us all, re-think education because even when our education system works, we are only educating our children on how to perpetuate the end of their world.