Marcia Stepanek is a regular contributing writer for Justmeans and co-founder of Contribute Media. She also is Publisher of Cause Global, a group blog about the use of social media in social advocacy and innovation. Previously, she was executive editor and co-founder of CIO Insight Magazine and Web strategies editor at BusinessWeek, as well as the national economics correspondent and special proje...
The Politics of Social Enterprise
Remember the military-industrial complex, that 20th century concept used to refer to cozy policy relationships between government, the national armed forces, and the commercial sector? Now, some in Washington say, there's a 21st century version being formed between Washington and the new social enterprise sector -- namely, one that's all about supporting the work of global social entrepreneurs as a tool of national security. [Or at least the Obama Administration says it is trying.]
Sure, it's great to see public-private partnerships and new ways that all sectors are becoming more open to collaboration and partnership. And, as the former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill once said, "People with jobs and higher incomes in global hot spots are far less likely to wage a terrorist attack on their way back home from work." But is there a risk now that social entrepreneurship could become politicized?
Consider, for example, the new entrepreneurship.gov Web site recently created by the Kauffman Foundation and the U.S. Commerce Department's International Trade Administration. Much like the Administration's change.gov Web site during the campaign and its efforts to reach out to the public via social media, creators of this site hope to rack up similar social capital and increased support for the Administration among business entrepreneurs.
Indeed, the concept of cross-sector partnerships is a popular one and, some say, long overdue. As in the social enterprise arena, the State Department is reaching out to new Internet innovators to advance its policy objectives. The agency, during the past year, helped to create a new nonprofit, called the Alliance of Youth Movements -- a group of 20-something Facebook and Twitter enthusiasts from around the world who are effectively using social media to crowdsource challenges to oppressive regimes. Last month, AYM held its second global conference in Mexico City, cosponsored by the State Department along with companies that included Facebook, Pepsi, Twitter, WordPress, and Univision. [Clinton's social media advisor, Alec Ross, refers to this as one initiative under the State Department's 21st Century Statecraft project.]
Is there just as strong a case to be made for the State and Commerce Departments to be in partnership with the social enterprise sector at home and abroad to advance economic policy objectives? Consider last week's Global Entrepreneurship Week events in Washington. The Administration used the week to announce it is organizing an Entrepreneurship Summit for the first quarter of 2010 to focus on promoting entrepreneurship in Muslim countries. Plans call for convening 150 delegates, including entrepreneurs, academics, and investors, to spark new movement around innovation and small business as an alternative to violence and chronic unemployment in these mostly developing nations.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a video shown last Monday in Washington to attendees of an International Finance Corporation conference on global entrepreneurship, said that "during this period of difficult economic recovery, ... the Administration is working to boost entrepreneurship, both in the United States and in other countries where talent is widespread but opportunity often is not." She said women and young people are "too often marginalized" but need to be catalysts:
"Insuring that everyone in society has the opportunity to make the most of their talents and fulfill their God-given potential is critical to widening economic prosperity as well as the [political] stability and security that goes with it. We can't afford to leave out anyone who has an idea, a dream, an invention or innovation..."
[Clinton recently launched the State Department's new food security initiative -- also billed as a bid for national security -- at her husband's public-private Clinton Global Initiative earlier this fall. CGI promotes cross-sector partnerships to promote social problem-solving and has attempted to feature both sides of the aisle in its programming.]
What do you think? Is the Obama Administration's push to break down traditional silos a form of enlightened government, long-overdue statecraft, and a more effective form of nation-to-nation diplomacy in our evolving Internet-wired society? Or does the President run the risk of politicizing social enterprise in the global arena? And should entrepreneurship be promoted with national security objectives in mind?
Let us hear from you.