social entrepreneurship

Andrew Hill

As part of my investigation into benefit corporations – a new legal corporate form springing up across the US – I asked early adopters a simple question: “Are you a capitalist?”

It put some of them on the spot. Benefit corporations are set up to serve a “triple bottom line” of social, environmental and economic objectives and their backers don’t fit the capitalist stereotype of cigar-chewing plutocrats running smoke-belching industrial behemoths. (Gary Gerber, who runs Californian solar energy company Sun Light & Power, is the first chief executive I’ve interviewed who apologised for coming to find me in his hybrid Toyota Prius because the two electric cars he uses were unavailable.)

I tend to agree with Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby, whose book Standing on the Sun points out that capitalism is “only a term for what capitalists tend to believe and do”. They suggest that in time “puzzling exceptions to the pursuit [of financial profit maximisation] – corporate social responsibility, venture philanthropy, sustainability – will be recognised to have a logic consistent with capitalism”. Which would mean that even contrarian “reluctant businessmen” like Yvon Chouinard, the surfing and mountaineering founder of Patagonia, the biggest benefit corporation, are capitalists. Read more

Andrew Hill

To attend my first Skoll World Forum in the same week as writing a column with the headline “We should stop trying to change the world” may be regarded as imprudent. The Skoll forum on social entrepreneurship, started nine years ago by eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll, probably has a higher quotient of delegates with that precise objective than any other conference on the planet.

What’s interesting is that it also has an increasing number of delegates from “big business”. There were none at the first forum, according to Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s Said Business School. Yet she was on her way to lunch with more than 60 on Thursday, which she considers a positive sign. Read more