Friday, March 8, 2013

As a Social Entrepreneur, are you walking on any backs?

Today is International Women's Day so lettuce take a moment to reflect.

If you are trying to grow a radishly different enterprise then you know about challenges. You'll also recognize opportunities. Some of the opportunities will be challenging and others will seem easy (peas-y). A day honouring women is a day honouring challenges for that is what women, globally, have faced for millennia. Systems of oppression remain firmly esconced throughout much of our globe and there remain many challenges despite a century of ardent feminism. The problems that remain are so pervasive it is hard to know where to start.

As a social entrepreneur you may well know the arduousness of evaluating the moral relevance of each and every decision you make as a business owner. A group of us recently joked about the discussions that likely took place over the Toronto District Beekeepers Association's full glossy flyer. The joke started a brief conversation about why they went with such an expensive (and surely not environmentally sustainable) piece of promotional gear (it is quite durable so could possibly be reused or is meant to be passed around from the original person who picked it up).

These are not trivial matters to the socially conscious entrepreneur. I personally know one social entrepreneur who will never use anything but digital material for promotion due to the environmental costs of anything but even bytes leave an environmental mark.

The posting I wrote about the Cupcake Economy was the first in what I hope to be a series that examines the phenomena of social entrepreneurs and their organizations metaphorically walking on the backs of those forced by circumstance to accept work that does not provide a living wage.  I focused on the wage issue in that first post but now I wish to focus on the living component.

I like what my friend Michael Sacco, founder of Chocosol Traders, has to say about earning a living. As a successful social entrepreneur, he strives for something he and Wayne Roberts are calling "Subsistence Plus". My understanding of their philosophy is this: Make enough to support yourself and your family plus a little extra to have fun with. Fun is a very flexible term which for some might include a vacation and for others an exhaustive classical music collection and yet others it could be simply the means to support charitable work. At it's heart I believe the subsistence plus philosophy means living with as little ego as possible.

How do we reflect that in our decisions as social entrepreneurs? Do we hire interns knowing that they will need to have another source of income (or charity) in order to live independently? Do we import cheap migrant labour that you know have to leave their families and communities so that they are not actually living a full life (as most of us, globally, would agree that living with ones' chosen family is desirable and is what I mean by saying a 'full' life) while earning their (mostly grossly underpaid) wages?

Or do you limit your organization's social responsibilities to issues of environmental sustainability which translates to the question of treading as lightly on Mother Earth's back as possible?

Today, on International Women's Day, it is important to recognize that as Social Entrepreneurs, we can no longer just consider Mother Earth's back. Equally imperative is the question of whether your business is treading, perhaps unwittingly, on the backs of the oppressed and voiceless. Ensuring a living wage is provided for all stakeholders in your organization is a goal that every Social Entrepreneur should be striving towards. So please, take a moment today to ask whether your organization, your suppliers, your customers, and your employees are all providing opportunities for a living wage in all of their business practices.

If the answers are not satisfactory, what will you do about it?  And also, I'd love if you'd share your ideas!

Click through to buy this (first ever) UN song released today.

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Manner alert: Don't speak with your mouth full.