Social Enterprise Family Continues to Grow

On Thursday, I will be taking part in a panel session on international development at the Social Enterprise Exchange in Glasgow - billed by the organizers as the "world's biggest social enterprise event". I am sure that it will be a stimulating discussion with plenty of audience participation.

Recently, there has been a fundamental disagreement between Scotland and England about the definition of social enterprise. The Scots believe that all social enterprises should always be asset-locked whereas, in England, many are quite relaxed for people to be able to make money out of any social enterprise.

I remember when I first became a Schwab Fellow in 2001. At the time, the term "social entrepreneur" was almost unheard of, but I was very clear that social entrepreneurship was in my DNA. A group of around 40 Social Entrepreneurs had been selected and we bonded immediately. It was a high-energy meeting with a shared passion about making the world a better place through entrepreneurship. A common bond was established that exists to this day.

But we all came from different backgrounds and cultures and didn't have to look too hard to see that we maybe had different values. But we didn't let this stand in our way. We could all see the benefit of working together.

I have worked in the area of global poverty alleviation since 1993. The problems are simply massive. While one individual can achieve a great deal, it is but a pinprick on a very dark landscape. We need to work with each other if we are to genuinely break the back of poverty.

I have always believed in creating broad churches where the sum of the parts can add up to something very powerful. When we first set up the International Network of Street Papers in the mid-nineties, for example, there were many basic disagreements between us. We used to argue long into the night, but I believed it was much better to concentrate on our similarities rather than our differences. We respected each other's position, but grew stronger by agreeing to work together.

Social enterprise is a relatively new phenomenon. Globally, the sector is in its infancy. Coming from Scotland, I happen to agree that one key definition of any social enterprise must be that it is asset-locked. Others in England may have another way of looking at things. I don't agree with them and I will argue with them. Ultimately, all of us have a similar vision of what the world should look like, but we are taking different paths.

Many countries have other definitions. A social enterprise in the United States looks very different to one in Europe, for example, simply because the economic and environmental system is different and because there is a very different culture or way of looking at things.

We have to respect and learn from one another and advance as a result. The discussions in Glasgow might be fraught at times, but they will be very interesting. I will always be very grateful for the support I have been given - and continue to receive - from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Among many other things, it has created a "family" of social entrepreneurs from all over the world that is wide open to new ideas and new thinking. The greater goal is to create a different world with a different set of values.

We can change the world if we put our minds to it, but we must work together.