Blending social and economic outcomes

Blending social and economic outcomes
blended value
What does your blended value look like?

Al Etmanski, SiG@PLAN partner in British Columbia, has an inspiring blog written by 58 thought leaders in answer to the question: What would you like to become more visible in 2011?

In this edition, which I wrote when I was looking forward at the year ahead, I offer my support to those who are trying to achieve both social and economic outcomes as an entrepreneur.

I have spent my life in the not-for-profit sector; it is core to who I am.  It is through the social services sector that I have worked to create change and help those in need.  From volunteering at the age of 12 with my home economics teacher to make breakfast (white bread and Cheez Whiz, no less) for kids coming to school hungry; to running shelters for homeless youth or battered women; from launching an innovative program to allow people to access human service information; to advocating for children’s health – the not-for profit sector has been my home.

But then something happened to me, something a bit odd in fact: I landed on MaRS.  MaRS is a “convergence innovation centre” located in downtown Toronto. It was originally set up to help commercialize life science research but soon moved to supporting entrepreneurs in the areas of information technology, cleantech and social innovation.  The social innovation practice is something that I have been privileged to help design and implement as part of the Social Innovation Generation (SiG) team and as the Director of Social Entrepreneurship at MaRS.

Although MaRS is a not-for-profit organization (NFP), most of my colleagues come from the for-profit sector (FP).  Our clients in the social innovation practice are social entrepreneurs who, interestingly enough, come equally from social enterprises (NFP) and social purpose businesses (FP). And what I’ve come to conclude is that all those entrepreneurs want the same end goal:  systemic, sustainable, social change.

As a result of this work I have come to challenge my own assumptions about the appropriate vehicle for creating social change.  I have come to accept that the corporate structure of an organization should not matter as much as the outcome or impact we are able to achieve.  In fact, we should aim for a “blended value” proposition in all our work.  And it seems this blended value concept is not in fact all that odd. The term even has an originator, Jed Emerson, and management gurus like Michael Porter write about it in the Harvard Business Review under the heading: The Big Idea.

So what I want to become more visible in 2011 is the realization that it is possible to achieve both social and economic outcomes in your work.  That it is possible to live and work your values.  That you should not have to make a choice between sacrificing your values to make money or sacrificing your earning potential by working for an organization that helps people.  The choice is yours, and – if you look hard enough – you will be supported in your efforts to both make money and make a difference. Regardless of your choice of corporate structure, I’ll be standing right behind you.

See the other in this series that I cross-posted to the MaRS blog: SiG National Executive Director, Tim Draimin offers his reflections on how social innovation can go mainstream. You can read the original post of this blog here.