Let’s Get Cracking!

I’d like to crack this shell of an idea that it is taboo when talking about the non-profit or social sector, to focus on business principles, numbers and growth. It was during my attendance at the Global conference on development that I began to identify perhaps a new trend happening between the for-profit and non-profit sector. Perhaps it was the fact that I was lunching with over 40 billion dollars in development dollar potential; perhaps it was hearing the ex-vp of marketing at Starbuck Tim Schottman speak about his application of for-profit business principle to the social sector, such as “return on social equity” to his non-profit organization SightLife, the only non-profit global health organization solely focused on eliminating corneal blindness in the U.S. and around the world. Perhaps it was the opportunity to hear Ken Berger, CEO, Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator who stated their goal as “to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America’s largest charities.” Or watching the TEDxPhilly talk by Jay C. Gilbert co-founder of the B Lab which created, and awards, the B corporation certificate for for-profit organizations. B Labs goal is to harness the power of business to solve the world’s social and environmental problems. Perhaps it’s when I attended a presentation Social Sector CEO Trends: Pathways to Leadership, that focused on the results from a recent Waldron-Evans survey conducted with the CEOs of largest NGOs and foundations nationwide. The survey highlights the career paths of these leaders as well as the “migration” of CEOs from the private and public sectors.

After reflecting upon each of my experiences and learnings from the aforementioned events. A trend seemed to emerge, that both the social sector and private sector seem to be experiencing a blurring of the lines between them. Language and terms are being used with similar intents in both sectors, the migration of private sector senior level talent are bringing their skill sets, which they developed in the for-profit sector over to the non- profit sector. There is also a reverse migration of for-profit business enterprises adopting some of the social sectors business mission statements, and building them into their core business structure.

This trending and blurring of lines between both sectors illustrate that the business and its principles are simply a tool to achieve a goal. Whether that goal is a for-profit venture, or an attempt to end global hunger due to poverty, makes no difference to the “business tool”. The heart and soul or lack thereof, are what should be scrutinized, not whether a firm is labelled for-profit or non-profit, private or social. How are we to succeed at the paramount task of ending world hunger due to poverty, if it’s taboo to talk about efficiency, growth rate, return on investment, competitive advantages, or return on social equity. Taboo – Smashboo I want to crack this socially constructed shell that separates the social sector from the private sector. Besides, I’ve always like my eggs scrambled.


Blog post by Jun Obayashi


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