Social Enterprise: The End of Trump?

There is no such thing as a social enterprise, a social venture, or an impact investment. There are just businesses and investments. Organizations and individuals leading the charge towards deliberately aligning values with business, a fast growing space that JP Morgan estimates received $46bn of investment in 2014 alone, are suggesting this is just business as usual, or business as it always ideally should have been.

Unfortunately, the reality of business and investment in America today is very far from this ideal. Wall street, financial markets, entrepreneurs, high net worth individuals, asset managers, family and university endowments, pension managers, and our largest and most successful corporations are all focused primarily on maximizing returns as measured in financial terms alone.

Individuals who build massively profitable corporations are deified by the media on television, radio, and in newspapers, books, and magazines, at universities, in film and on sitcoms. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergei Brin, Larry Page, Warren Buffet, Jack Welch, Carl Icahn, Mitt Romney, Henry Kravis, Donald Trump - the list goes on. These individuals and dozens of others have become American role models. They may write bestselling books, star in television shows and movies, run for office, become the subject of fascinating newspaper articles, launch ambitious charities, and have millions of followers on social media. Many a young, and old American aspires to be like them.

When we allow this to happen we are also exposing ourselves to risk given that corporate and financial achievements alone may not be an accurate or appropriate measure of true success. Or maybe we already know that, but our actions continue to reinforce the contrary as we aspire to earn more money, buy bigger homes, idolize the rich and famous, and essentially ignore any connection between our values and the corporations, brands, products, role models, and investments we support.

To suggest somehow that Donald Trump's success is an isolated and surprising phenomenon with no clear basis in our own way of life lacks wisdom and introspection. His rise is in fact particularly disquieting precisely because it is a reflection of our own shortcomings. Imagine the scenario where we are a people who collectively discriminate against making money by running casinos who promote gambling, private equity firms who outsource thousands of manufacturing jobs to China because labor is cheaper, hotels that use unethically sourced wood, or energy companies that compromise water resources, for example. Imagine if we actually used positive outcomes on communities, society, human beings, and the environment as part of our evaluation of individuals and their business ventures. Would we be faced with a successful Trump presidential run today? Would there be any confusion at all?

We are, for one reason or another, unaware of our own influence as consumers and citizens of this great country on its socio-economic and political outcomes. Voting doesn't happen exclusively at the polls anymore. Like the new connected digital age, where every click or view carries an economic footprint (and thus responsibility), so do our values, investments, aspirations, and purchasing behaviors together form a long moral arch, and it bends towards Donald J Trump.