David Brooks had an interesting piece the other day on young people and social entrepreneurship. Perhaps not shockingly, he portrays those of us who believe in a role for a reformed and impact-oriented private sector as idealistic, possessed of a worldview that’s as myopic as it is international.
But his caricature of young believers hanging out in coffee shops wearing United Colors of Beneton misses the point of why young people like me want a new way. Here’s his claim:
Yet one rarely hears social entrepreneurs talk about professional policing, honest courts or strict standards of behavior; it’s more uplifting to talk about microloans and sustainable agriculture.
In short, there’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder head-on.
- We’re not trying to evade politics—but we can’t reform someone else’s institutions. If you’re not from, say, Nigeria, there’s not much you can do to help establish a transparent and fair government there that adheres to strict principles of rule of law. What Brooks seems to call neglect I call respect.
- Along those lines, to the extent someone can do something “from the outside” about democracy and rule of law challenges, there’s already a large swath of organizations doing something performing that role, including Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations (and as Echoing Green so nicely points out, there are lots of people fighting those issues through entrepreneurship as well). But there aren’t—or weren’t until social entrepreneurship took off—organizations devoted to making innovative products for farmers, or helping the poor get access to capital easily.
- Finally, he misses the point of what we’re working for: social entrepreneurship doesn’t address the failure of the government. It addresses the failure of a system that pits government and private sector against one another. We want to reframe the mission of the private sector (lower returns for higher impact) and come to terms with the limitations of the public/multilateral sector whose donor-supplicant relationship to the poor has so often proven counterproductive.
This article was submitted by a first-year IPS student.