A few weeks back I wrote a blog which was picked up by Nature Coast, about lifestyle working and it’s possibilities for something greater. It posed the quandry “if we’ve got more flexibility & choice over our working lives, what’s our new found motivation directed toward?”.
I have been exploring this with my own life for the last 4 years. I sometimes call myself a ‘corporate refugee’, but really my time was only slight compared to many who’ve escaped the realm later in life.
I left the UK with the assertion that I was ‘off to work on something which I believed in’. Honestly, I had little idea what it was at that time, but knew climate change & environmental issues were high up on the agenda for me. I found myself volunteering in the jungles of Borneo with a youth charity, and then working on environmental conservation activities with young people in Australia, and finally the move to New Zealand came with a job on the west coast of the South island – more conservation work, but this time with volunteers from around the world.
All this time, certain things became crystal clear to me – people and planet is largely all we have, money & materials are just a transience, not an end goal. Of course, money is also a lubricant to society – a system that allows us to trade at an agreed value. Somewhere along the way some of us got subverted in our thinking, believeing that money is the value.
So this made me wonder about the concept that, on one side we have private sector – “in it for the money”, and on the other the community sector “in it for people & planet”. Why is it that we think that they don’t, and more importantly shouldn’t mix? It seemed so clear to me that without all three, neither sector would achieve it’s potential.
And so it is, I’ve become really interested in the grey bit in the middle – not so much the ‘corporate social responsibility’ touted by many big corporations as their way of ‘giving back’ – but the idea of social enterprise and social innovation.
This is not a new idea, indeed it’s been around for almost as long as civilised society, and is certainly ingrained in many indigenous cultures around the world – trading for the benefit for the community, and accordingly looking after the land which nurtures that community. There’s a definite thread running through Maori culture especially. Sadly this has been crushed by larger corporate ideals, driving ever harder bargains, with little to no connection to the land & communities they’re operating in. However with the global economic crisis, widespread environmental issues, and complex societal problems still unanswered, I think we can see that capitalism & the welfare state alone is not going to answer our problems.
And so it begins with us. With what we care about – our family, our whanau, our futures.
The social enterprise movement in the UK, USA & Australia is very strong, and is proving that community-owned social enterprises are able to thrive in tough times, but most importantly, create more resilient communities through ownership of assets and services, as well as entrepreneurial behaviour to innovate and be creative when it comes to answering some of the tough problems. New Zealand is crying out for this approach in a time when we’ve just seen a government budget cut funding to social services, a proposal to sell off large parts of our state owned enterprises, and a reliance on families throughout the country to do more with less in the coming years.
There’s plans afoot in New Zealand, but still the movement is quite young. Recently there was a Community Economic Development conference in Auckland, and the concept of social enterprise was given a thorough work out – and came out shining as a beacon for a raised standard of living for New Zealanders. There’s even social enterprise principles creeping into political policy in advance of this year’s election.
Social Enterprise works across quite a spectrum, but essentially it is a business approach to social and environmental issues. It’s not just a recognition that people & planet are important (sustainability), but a business holding this at its core – some go as far as finding ways to show this value at every transaction in their business. There is a great resource from the Social Enterprise UK as a grounding in this facet of business.
Social innovation is a wider spectrum – it can come in any sector, but the focus is solving or radically reducing the social or environmental problem it was aimed at tackling. This is where the high impact stuff happens – where the big wins for people & planet occur, and where we need to be supporting people working in our communities more.
If you’re wondering where these magical social entrepreneurs, innovators and community developers come from, and when they will come to our neck of the woods, you’re out of luck. “They” are you and me. “They” are people with a passion to see a better world, and a brighter future. It starts now.
So that’s my answer to the question of what we do with this new working paradigm – work with purpose, with passion, and for a better future for all of us.