Social Enterprise - New Possibilities for Social Workers
The following are highlights, written especially for the "OASW Newsmagazine" by Bryan Hayday, of his Closing Address at the OASW Provincial Conference on November 27, 2010. The PowerPoint slides of his presentation are posted on OASW's website: www.oasw.org.
What do we mean by “social enterprise”?
First and foremost, social enterprises include a mission -- a world-changing goal -- bearing in mind that much of the work of “world-changing” starts small. And secondly, enterprise management should put us in mind of the best of business practices, with a necessary combination of skill, innovation and strategy. In some ways, a productive social enterprise is the intersection of top-line thinking (i.e. our mission), and a bottom-line mentality, the efficient garnering, stewardship and allocation of resources.
Your social enterprise might involve the sale of a specialized service or support. It may involve navigating a complicated change or redesigning a helping system; it may involve developing the skills necessary for a career transition or negotiating the resolution of a deep-seated conflict. Social workers are also often involved in capacity-building in local communities -- whether these be communities of neighbourhoods or shared interests. And, importantly, any surplus revenue from a social enterprise, which most people would normally understand as “profit”, is principally reinvested to extend your social objectives.
Social workers have a long history of having a third party, often the government in some form, paying for their valuable work. The growth of social enterprise recognizes two systemic shifts in our communities. First, government’s financial support is more and more time-limited, if present at all. Second, the growth of a market mentality has resulted in great pressure to show a value-for-dollars proposition, whether that be in a discernible return on an investment or in direct savings and costs avoided. As a result, social workers are under great pressure to become more comfortable and fluent with this discourse. The good news -- social work’s long history of problem-solving and capacity-building has deep qualitative roots and great strength in adaptability. Now, we need to bring a quantitative lens to help reveal a deeper appreciation of our value.
Why do we need to change our approach?
It is hard to be inspired and to give leadership to our community programs and social services when we watch the demand for social and health care services growing so rapidly -- all the time watching the economy misfire and government funding flatten. Set against this background, our leadership has never been needed more.
Now there are likely more than a few obstacles to a group of social workers taking some advice from a business school. And so, in the spirit of making the elephant in the room discussable, I’d like to share the following. My orientation at the Schulich School of Business is defined by my attachment to the Non-Profit Management and Leadership Program. This program is a major reason why Schulich is ranked first in the world by the Aspen Institute for its integration of social and environmental stewardship, and why Schulich continues to have “bragging” rights internationally for its integration of executive education in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
In a time of economic discouragement and social policy retrenchment, your leadership of new social enterprises holds out hope for income generation, capacity-building and social impact. Social innovation and social enterprise can also help leverage research, attract resources for program development and increase our efficacy and efficiency. As we re-invent our strategies and find a new way forward, we need to chart a hopeful future for our clients, our programs and our communities -- a future that is about the preservation of our best, an openness to the art of the possible, and the will to make a difference that makes a difference.
How can we make a difference in such complex environments?
There are some powerful, paradoxical and overarching questions which we need to address in our social enterprise efforts.
- How do we make sense of systems that are alternately turbulent, chaotic and “stuck"?
- How do we give leadership to protect the best of “what is” and also find a way to nurture the changes we long for?
- What are the “traps” that get us stuck, and how can we work around them?
Now, here I need to pause and make an observation. In traditional business school curricula, there is a great amount of attention given to the precise definition of a strategy and the careful and lean execution of key steps against that strategy. Not surprisingly, leading thinkers like Henry Mintzberg of McGill University have taught us that there is a great sloppiness (an accurate description, if not an erudite one) when it comes to implementing strategy. And this is where social work has an historic and profound advantage as a discipline, for social workers understand systems. Social workers recognize patterns. Social workers understand change. Social workers know the power of a catalyst, a tipping point. And social workers have the perspective and can make the transition to see issues and opportunities at multiple levels -- at the micro or individual level, the group and organizational level, and also at the institutional and societal level.
So now, when social workers consider the design of a social enterprise, they are asked to do something which is at the heart of their discipline and much of their practice -- to re-frame. However, in these times, we are not just asking for re-framing, but also for us to hold a set of concurrent challenges in front of us.
These concurrent challenges invite us to consider four questions whilst we think about our workplaces, our communities, and our helping systems:
- What is most precious and needs preserving?
- What needs to “stop” in order to make room for the new?
- What new ideas and approaches can we imagine?
- What emerging pilots and innovations are worthy of more investment?
These questions will of necessity lead to change – and offer no guarantees. Living and leading with this ambiguity is much more fully and articulately described in the book Getting to Maybe by Westley, Zimmerman, and Patton than my remarks do today. We are challenged to develop new leadership capacities, which may well require new and often different kinds of social connections or relationships (social capital investments). These new relationships may well hold the promise of new earned income incubators and market ventures.
Marshall Ganz, a co-architect of Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign, wrote an op-ed piece following the Democrats’ mid-term election losses. In that op-ed piece, Ganz offered some reflections on leadership in our times. I think his words have a lot of relevance for social work in 2011. He writes:
“The primary responsibility of a (community) organizer is to develop the leadership capacities of others...
- ‘Transactional’ leadership is about horse-trading, operating within the routine, and it is practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo.
- "Transformational" leadership engages followers in the risky and often exhilarating work of changing the world, work that often changes the activists themselves.
- Its sources are shared values that become wellsprings of the courage, creativity and hope needed to open new pathways to success.”
I think Ganz was also talking about the next community of practice in social work, a community of practice which includes social enterprise and which also protects the essential, imagines the possible and realizes the plausible.
Bryan Hayday has been consulting with non-profit organizations and government departments at a national, provincial and local level for over twenty-five years, focusing on planning, strategic management, change and governance issues. Bryan also teaches in the Non-Profit Management and Leadership MBA Program at the Schulich School of Business, York University. Throughout Bryan’s experience as a CEO, Executive Director and consultant, his work has been characterized by collaboration with businesses and non-profit organizations in the health, education and social service sectors, developing new and creative ways of working together for healthier children, families, organizations and communities. A graduate of York University and Loyola College in Inter-Disciplinary Studies, Bryan’s early career included work in organizational development and mental health consultation.