Social Entrepreneurship for Conservatives

On Friday, Matthew moderated a panel discussion on income generating strategies for non-profits, at the annual conference put on by students at New York’s Columbia Business School. With a keynote address by Jeff Immelt, the boss of GE, and the title, “The Moment of Now: Market Innovations in Social Enterprise”, the conference was full of the spirit of the new movement we call “Philanthrocapitalism”. There was an impressive turnout of idealistic students who are looking to make a difference. If anything, the problems in the for-profit world seemed to have increased their interest in working for innovative non-profits.

Matthew’s panel featured three interesting speakers: Sharon Oster, who runs the social enterprise program at Yale School of Management, where she has just been appointed Dean; Charles King, founder of Housing Works, which funds healthcare for people with HIV/Aids, not least through a very upmarket shop for used clothes (Armani etc); and George McDonald of the Doe Fund, which employs prisoners on their release from jail.

One point on which the speakers agreed was that non-profits should not pursue income generating strategies that run contrary to their mission. Thus, King felt it was fine to sell alcohol in Housing Works stores, whereas Mr McDonald did not think that strategy would help the Doe Fund’s mission.

On October 27th, in New York, Mr McDonald will be awarded the 2008 William E. Simon Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship. This will be at the annual Social Entrepreneurship Awards hosted by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that, as we describe in the book, has long been funded by philanthrocapitalists and played a crucial role in reviving New York during the past couple of decades with its pioneering policiy ideas for civil reform.

One of the features of philanthrocapitalism is that it crosses political party lines, and this is reflected in the celebration of social entrepreneurship by conservatives at the Manhattan Institute as well as more leftish people such as Jeff Skoll, whose Skoll Foundation is dedicated to promoting social entrepreneurship, and Bill Drayton of Ashoka, a network of social entrepreneurs. Nor is this just in America; in Britain, both the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron, the Conservative leader, are enthusiastic about social entrepreneurship.

True, conservatives seem to talk more about the entrepreneurial aspects of it, and how it can provide a private alternative to government solutions, whilst the left prefers to stress how it can bring innovative approaches to the public sector, but behind the rhetoric, there is plenty of agreement.