the social enterprise: irony and alternative

Over the years SCOUT BANANA’s work has been termed “social entrepreneurship.” Unfortunately, the definition of the social enterprise has slowly become muddled and confused with other ideas. During a discussion last month a friend said that calling someone a social entrepreneur was like “cutting the balls off of a socialist.” He may not have been as far from the truth as I once thought. As the term becomes more prevalent within aid and development we must delve deeper into the history of social enterprise and decide what it really means for the work that we do.

Jeff Trexler wrote an excellent poston the history of social enterprise. He writes that a social enterprise is essentially “a venture with a social purpose.” As many wrongly believe the ideas of social enterprise did not come from capitalism or corporate business models at all.

“In socialist jurisprudence, social enterprise was a term designed to replace the capitalist notion of businesses dedicated to the pursuit of profit. The social enterprise generated revenue in excess of the costs of production, but profit-making was not the goal of socialist business–rather, its fundamental organizational purpose was to serve collective benefit. More over, in keeping with Marxist/Leninist ideology, the social enterprise was owned & controlled not by private shareholders–a hallmark of bourgeoise capitalism–but by workers themselves, from the workers immediately connected to the enterprise to society as a whole.”

Jeff continues to write that “social enterprise” migrated to Western minds and charities much the same way that “civil society” was reborn and co-opted. Meaning “citizen’s society,” the term was used to unite individuals against centralized government power. Now the term is best understood as a descriptor of anything “non-governmental.”

It seems that “social enterprise” has drifted just as far from its original conception. As a social venture that was meant to give power back to people and allow them ownership, much like a cooperative, “social enterprise” has best come to represent corporate philanthropy and cause marketing campaigns. Both of which are focused on turning profits and not helping people. Julia Moulden asks, “is making a difference only for the rich?” She easily gives examples that it is not, but is it? As far as the foreign aid/ international development arena it appears that social enterprise is geared towards engaging wealthy Western populations in feel good campaigns, like Product (RED), that are best defined as image marketing campaigns for corporations to try and look better as a way to bring in more customers. Lucy Bernholz has termed this business model “embedded giving” where “commerce is used to generate funds for a cause.” She writes:

“Embedded giving is just one more example of the blurring of sectors and roles between commerce, philanthropy, and public good. […] Maybe today’s teens and kids who have seen so much embedded giving will grow up to expect that every product and every service comes with a charitable affiliation.”

SCOUT BANANA’s work was first called “social entrepreneurship” in 2004 when I was selected as one of Netaid’s Global Action Awardee and was asked to contribute to a discussion on SocialEdge about young people and making a difference. Then, I was not too sure what the term meant or why it might be significant. More recently Spotlight Michigan has highlighted our work and called us a “social enterprise.” They select “innovative” companies and organizations in Michigan to feature on their website. Their criteria breaks down into three categories: creativity, risk-taking and adaptability. In the true spirit of a social enterprise we are an organization built for adaptation because we operate by members involvement and input. We have always been called creative for our fundraising tactics, use of yellow and bananas, and our ability to connect people. The risk-taking is another story. We never faced any risk in our venture to make a difference. If we failed the only people who would potentially suffer were those relying on our support to access basic health care. Alanna Shaikh wrote an excellent piece on how “global health is not about altruism.” While our actions may have been seen as risk-taking, we really work to create accountable, long-term relationships with communities developing their own sustainable solutions.

Personally I define social entrepreneurship within its original conception; a socialist structure (for social good) that is meant to give power and agency back to people as well as present an alternative to ineffective governments. Civil society still exists because honestly the government can’t do it all and often are not very good at meeting the needs of people. SCOUT BANANA sees the world’s problems as a simple equation of connecting communities; linking the necessary social capital (people and ideas) to social problems. We embrace the idea of “social enterprise” by focusing on presenting an alternative to government aid schemes and other big philanthropy and development programs that go for the quick-fix, band-aid solutions without being people-focused to produce long-term social change.

Is SCOUT BANANA a social enterprise? Yes and no, it depends how you define the term. If you are thinking of an organization cooperatively owned and operated by its members, focused on providing an alternative to what hasn’t worked, and supporting community-based solutions that do work – then, and only then are we definitely a “social enterprise.” In her Spotlight Michigan article I think Caitlin Blair put it best: “A society of entrepreneurs and innovators simply could not exist without social entrepreneurs because where business entrepreneurs typically work to enhance markets, social entrepreneurs completely transform the necessary infrastructure and attitudes of a society.”

See our features on Spotlight Michigan:
profile
article
photo essay 

Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog.

five principles: returning to what works, be responsible

Over my seven years of being involved in development work my thinking and understanding related to development: the action, the term, and the mentality, has evolved, been destroyed, and is more often radically (double meaning) recreated. The growth in my thinking from my youthful naïve, but very open and un-restricted, thinking has been one that has taken me on more than one adventure. While the Capstone course in international development has helped me to build a theoretical framework and apply new buzzwords to my ideas of development, it has not so much changed my thinking in the realm of development. My ideas cannot be narrowed to only five principles, but I will cover those that I have determined to be necessary for a base of effective and responsible development. This will be my attempt to answer Alan Thomas’ question,

The alternative vision, based on the realization of human potential in diverse ways, allows for the immanent development at the level of individuals and communities, which should become ‘empowered’ to develop themselves to their full capacities. However, there is no clear model for how development of this kind might build on itself to create a self-reproducing process of social change […] (36)

The alternatives that many people are working to employ now are often mirrors of original subsistence-living, traditional and indigenous communities. As such my definition of development reflects the ideas of these communities rooted in sustainability.

My (un)Definition:

I am not allowed to define development. It is not my place and it is not my task unless I am part of a community that seeks to take actions on its future. Development, in my opinion, is a very sensitive term and can only be given definition in the community in which it will be implemented. This follows my beliefs of all definitions of words. In this case, the full contextual load associated with the development term requires a departure from even the use of the term and instead an outlining of what a community seeks to accomplish. Development, as a singularly defined term, will only again assert power over people sought to be ‘developed.’ The power of words and their use by people is still a very important concept. So, I cannot give a definition, but I can give principles with their own definitions to allow others agency in their own development. Definition of development: __________________.

Five Principles

I: Small Scale

We have fled the land and crowded into cities leaving the natural (environment) commons to be destroyed and exploited. Alternatives spring up left and right that call for a co-evolution of man and nature, sometimes called ecological development, because it takes into account every aspect of our world system that sustains our lives.

Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. (Schumacher, 14)

People need to re-situate themselves in a new natural commons where the perpetuation of that natural commons is the number one goal. People and nature can co-evolve, our thinking and structures just need to recognize this and find ways for that idea to work.

Within this principle, localization and relocalization are very important. Means of production and consumption need to be made smaller in scale, into economies of scale.

[…] people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade. (Schumacher, 62)

These localized economies of scale will reduce the need to take extreme measures to provide a commodity half way across the world when a working alternative exists. Take fruit for example, I love mangoes, but it is entirely unnecessary that I eat one at the expense of cheap labor, petro-industry perpetuation, and wasteful delivery systems when I could walk outside into my backyard and eat a beautiful Michigan apple. Developing localization also builds community and cooperation between people who may otherwise believe they are completely disconnected. The values of interdependence and tolerance will be ever more important.

A world of ‘humanized’ production, based on a small scale but modern and scientific technology, a world of co-operation in villages and small towns, a world of enriched social relationships growing out of a process of production and exchange that is under human control rather than ‘alienated’. . . (Kitching, 179 qtd. Thomas)

In a sense, people need to be reintroduced to their world and their neighbors (they live just next door). We need to find a way to live in our natural commons, not on it or just off of it. Our parasitic tendencies need to be reversed and we need to become givers to that which provides us everything. All must worship our mother who art not in heaven (mother nature). This will allow us greater agency in our own development, which is a collective endeavor.

In this localized economy of scale we will return to nature and again understand how to be responsible producers and consumers, we will reorient ourselves with that which has become a commodified human need: food. For this principle step one is starting a farmer’s market in your community or getting involved in local politics.

II: Cooperation

Cooperation is natural and it works. It is probably the most effective development model in existence. People and creatures work together for mutual benefit more often than they choose the option that only helps themselves. Evidence of this is displayed in symbiotic relationships between disparate life forms.

People have also formed structures that allow for greater cooperation between themselves: cooperatives, collectives, and communes. Even religious societies,

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. […] All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts of the Apostles, 43-47)

All forms focus on a lifestyle that is centered on working for the good of the whole community. Cooperatives often formed in response to practices of monopoly, failures of the free market, exploitation, oppression, and global capitalist destructions.

“[…] in an era of capital concentration and corporate malfeasance, grassroots community responses can make a major contribution to providing a better living environment.” (Merrett & Walzer)

Cooperatives are based on principles of voluntary association, democratic and consensus decision-making by all community members, member participation, autonomy and independence, education, cooperation with other cooperatives, and concern for community. These are principles that are very much related to the five principles I outline here. Cooperatives are important tools for community building and can strengthen localization efforts by allowing everyone to take part in economics and decisions. Cooperatives also foster tolerance and respect.

“Co-ops often played a role in uniting different ethnic groups in their new communities.” (Merrett & Walzer, 29)

Becoming closer to each other as people living in the same world goes along with cooperatives efforts to be ecologically sustainable with minimal impact on the natural commons. Respect for both people and nature will be fostered as more small-scale cooperatives are formed in support of a localized economy of scale. Step one for this principle is joining a cooperative or communal organization.

III: Anarchy

Anarchy is a philosophy and theory that, “regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society (dictionary.com). In practice decentralization is essentially anarchy. A decentralized system is still a system, with its part linked by mutual transactions and interdependence (Kochen, 18). In 1973, E.F. Schumacher wrote that poverty is essentially a problem of two million villages and the solutions to poverty would not come from the cities, but from those villages (204). His idea is often replicated in the work of development projects and NGOs, including Jeffrey Sachs’ work.
Jeffrey Sachs says decentralization is necessary because, “the details will need to be decided at the village level, in the villages and cities themselves” (278). This model is represented in his Millennium Villages Project (MVP), however the extent of decision making at the village level is undetermined, if it exists at all. Sachs’ best known critic, William Easterly, writes his theories of development based on a bottom-up market approach and so it is already decentralized from the start, but unfortunately it works towards an end goal of centralization (Easterly, 100). To join the crew of prominent development economists, Joseph Stiglitz wrote in a World Bank report,

In many cases innovative approaches to service delivery will involve greater participation by local communities and decentralization of decisionmaking. (Stiglitz, 1998)

The model that these top (and top-down) economists should use is best known as “autonomous development.” Development that is defined and controlled by local people is autonomous. This type of development is exemplified by indigenous groups in the Andes, where they define development as “wellbeing not only of the individual, but also of the world around them (Saravia qtd. in Ruonavaara). Related to this, Esteva writes that people sought to liberate themselves from their economic chains and so created new commons in their neighborhoods, barrios, and villages (20). From the ideas of anarchy and decentralization rooted in autonomous development, the possibilities are real to create,

Anarchy works to support cooperative, voluntary mutual aid and association, without the interference of government. It is not a philosophy of violence and chaos as many wrongly believe, it is rather an attempt to embody a society where people have control of their own development which is to occur through cooperation between individuals in cooperative communities. Step one: reject the national government and begin governing your life by your interactions with community members.

IIII: Autonomy

“The most effective forms of organization are based on partly autonomous and contextually rooted local units linked by connective structures, and coordinated by formal organizations.” (Tarrow, 137)

There can be no centralized control over anyone or anything. Everything must be related to a common community so that the effects and impacts are known and felt. Successes and failures will reflect on the operation of said community and will allow no one the ability to claim ignorance. Autonomy allows for each person to develop themselves as a separate sovereign unit within the community. As such no external agendas could take over ‘development’ of the community and the people living and working will have complete control over what they need and how they will get it.

The really helpful things will not be done by big organizations; but they can be done by people themselves […] (Schumacher, 205)

The only thing that large organizations can and should facilitate is the dissemination of information, best practices, and means of communicating with distant voices. Large organizations should remain small in structure and focused solely on a goal of educating. Autonomy is essential for small-scale, cooperative, anarchic communities for people to actualize their own power and potential as well as providing everyone agency in their own development. Step one: make sure groups/ companies you associate with are not just power hungry minorities that don’t allow members to participate.

V: Socialism

Small-scale + cooperative + autonomous + anarchic = a socialist utopia.

Would Marx be proud? Perhaps, but Robert Owen, founder of the cooperative movement, would be more proud. Marx called Owen’s ideas “utopian socialism.” So the last great evil that I will write about is probably the most formative concept for creating a new definition of ‘development.’ The basic tenet of socialism: ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ reflects the ideas of Jesus, cooperation, autonomy, and definitely small-scale structures. The greatest downfalls of socialism have come about as a result of power. The implementation of a socialist system cannot work in a centralized society, just as democracy does not work in large-scale organizational structures.

Each of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member of the whole. (Rousseau, Ch. 6, Bk. 1)

Socialism demands a lack of centralized governmental authority over people and decisions. It calls for a reclaiming of the commons for all and the importance of localization. The autonomous work of each decentralized community will benefit society as a greater whole in socialism. It requires cooperation between members of the small community if it is to succeed at all. If the previous principles had been applied in socialism, it would have been a working model for an alternative society. Step one: defend the term of socialism when it is decried as a failure.

Conclusion – The List:

Small scale, localization, economies of scale, sustainability, ecological development, cooperation, mutual aid, anarchy, decentralization, village republic, autonomy, agency in development, bottom-up, socialism, utopia, communal life

Works Cited:

Allen, Tim and Alan Thomas. Poverty and Development in the 21st Century. Oxford:
Oxford University, 2000.

Apostles. The Bible: Acts of the Apostles. A really long time ago inspired by Jesus, born of Mary (the ‘virgin’) and Joseph (the carpenter).

Easterly, William. The White Man’s Burden. The Penguin Press: 2006.

Kochen, Manfred and Karl Wolfgang Deutsch. Decentralization. Oelgeschlager, Gunn &
Hain Publishers, Inc. 1980.

Merrett, Christopher D. and Norman Walzer eds. Cooperatives and Local Development.
Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2004.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Social Contract. The Penguin Press, 1974.

Ruonavaara, Diane. Literature Review of Development Perspectives. 2000.

Sachs, Jeffery. The End of Poverty. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.

Schumacher, E.F. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Harper Perennial:
New York, 1973. Reissued, 1989.

Stiglitz, Joseph. Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. World Bank:
November, 1998.

Tarrow, Sidney. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics.
Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, 1998.

Wood, Lesley. “5 Bridging the Chasms: The Case of Peoples’ Global Action.” Coalitions
Across Borders. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2005.

the nature of africa: rhythm and socialism

The nature of Africa is all about rhythm. Rhythm pervades everything. There is a great love of music that is almost unseen anywhere else. From the very birth of a child there is rhythm in that tiny life. The child enters the world with built in rhythm: crying, kicking, blinking. This child is then exposed to the natural rhythms of the world: frogs croaking, dogs barking, crickets chirping. We all move about our days in rhythm, we talk, chew, sneeze, laugh, go to the bathroom, speak, and walk in rhythm. A child develops this sense of rhythm in Africa as it swings wrapped on its mother’s back – she fetches water, walks, and dances and the child learns rhythm. Rhythm is present even on a less basic level. In many parts of Africa the ritual of greeting someone is very rhythmic – asking the health of the greeter, his family, and his work. This is all done in an almost sing-song rhythm.

This rhythm is transferred from the natural happenings of the world into the lives of the people through drumming and dance. Drums are a key part of life in Africa. Many communities still use drums for their traditional purpose of calling a community together and sending messages. The tradition of drum and dance is never lost in Africa, that is an aspect that I think will never be lost from the cultures. We have experienced a great deal of this drum and dance tradition as part of our escapades around Ghana and in our course on the art, music, and culture of Ghana. As soon as we arrived in Ghana the rhythm of drums surrounded us. I met the rastas on the second day and began learning from them right from the get go drumming in the market. In Cape Coast we had the performance by the traditional drum and dance group and interacted in the performance with our mostly unrhythmic attempts to dance. More recently we have been coordinating drum and music lessons with our professor and professional music teachers. We had a lesson from the University of Ghana,who is a master drummer, for one of our lectures. We used the traditional Ghanaian drums for this session, they hurt the hands a bit more.

We have also been receiving lessons from Kwasi, who has traveled extensively in the US performing and teaching drumming. He taught and did his dissertation at the University of Michigan. We took the bus to his home which was far from the center of Accra because there is a noise ban. The noise ban was in place from the government so as not to upset the gods before the harvest. Kwasi is an older, stylish and spunky man. He has a nice short afro, dark aviators, creased khakis, and an awesome tie. We start each session with creating random musical rhythms out of words that pop into Kwasi’s head and we often dance around his compound singing and stomping our feet to a rhythm. When we finally got to the drumming we were almost too tired from the dancing workout, you wonder why Africans are so fit – take up some type of African dance. Kwasi was amazing to learn from and was extremely excited to be involved with teaching students music again. He group is supposed to perform for us before we leave. we only have two more days of our course on art, music, and culture.

Along with rhythm consuming life in Africa, there is a certain natural socialism that seems to work quite well. The idea of socialism was attempted across the continent, but it failed – why – because the elites in power were too interested in keeping that power. In much of Africa, specifically in Ghana, people live in secluded hamlets (communes). These hamlets are often isolated, but they remain connected with one another through traditional festivals. In these housing groups there is an idea of communal labor. If your neighbor’s fence has a hole in it the community comes together to work and fix it. This concern for everyone in the community builds the connectivity and social care. This is also evidenced in the ritual greeting and concern for the well being of a fellow community member. Within the hamlet everyone learns how to do every job, everyone knows how to do everything – so everyone helps with everything. There is also a communal yard, court, open space for market, dance, festival, and meeting. I think that this natural socialism helps to build and grow the rhythm of the community.

Professor Dzokoto, lecturing us on the music of Ghana, told us that if you are not part of the community you will not know the rhythm of the community. If you are a stranger to the community you will not know the rhythm of the community. Rhythm pervades all. Kwasi told us that from a young age he began drumming, first on people’s heads. I like to think that I understand that rhythm. As far back as I can remember and as I am told, I was drumming on everything. From my leg, to my desk, to the church pew, to the dinner table – I loved rhythm, rhythm pervades all.

News from Africa:
If you may have missed the news President Bush has placed sanctions on Sudan over Darfur. This marks a great point in his botched presidency. Placing sanctions on companies that operate in Sudan or with Sudan will create a stronger push for a change and hopefully a peace in the Darfur region.

Today the government of Niger dissolved. Yes dissolved, their parliament voted no confidence in the Executive branch because of troubles and corruption in regards to money usage. What this means for Niger I cannot say, but this will definitely be something to keep watch.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

young people for. . .

This year I have been awarded a fellowship through the Young People For the American Way. YP4 is a youth-driven and youth-led program that brings together young leaders and activists who are eager to ensure that their voices are heard on critical issues, such as civil liberties, the judiciary, free speech, the environment, and civil rights. The program is designed for serious people who are interested in becoming more effective leaders and making a difference. I am happy and honored to say that I have been chosen as one of those people. Coming up this month in roughly 6 days is the National Summit of all the progressive leaders chosen for the fellwoship. I am very excited to be headed to Washington D.C. and meet the outstanding student leaders from across the US.

“In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation. . .”
– Great law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)

As I have said before, I am an idealist – or that is how many people define me – I am a dreamer, but I keep the realities of the world close at hand. In my young age I have experienced so much, met so many inspiring people, seen so much suffering, and witnessed an incredible amount of hope. I dream, but I also see my dreams come to life, I hope and that hope becomes an embodied passion. I dream of a world where my children can live and have no fear. Fear is merely the term used when there is an absence of compassion. I dream of a world where peace is the norm, we will cooperate and coexist and accept one another for who he or she may be. I dream of a world where passion for life and the well-being of others drives the world and not lust for fame, fortune, or the frivolity of things. I dream and I hope. One of my favorite quotes: “Dreams do not meet the overhead, believers do.” A person who does not dream cannot be a believer, but a dreamer has to do more than just envision, a dreamer has to put their heart and soul into their dreams. What I see as the greatest problem in our country (USA) and in our world is the great lack of passion and compassion in society. Where there is a lack of passion there is a lack of purpose. Where there is a lack of compassion there is a lack of hopes and dreams. This all leads to what we are experiencing today – a government with little citizen participation, a society bent on getting more, a world caught up in greed, and a cynical base of societal leaders.

The most basic human emotion of compassion is neglected. People need to be relating to one another as equals. Our pain is the same yet in this world that seems to bring no gain. Broken and dying the poverty stricken are lying at society’s doorsteps. Who will it be who brings about the change in people’s attitudes? What will you do? Today people relate to one another through historical class structures that have somehow made it into the modern world. We go to the schools of our same class (private, public), we attend the same stores as our class, and we meet at the same community centers as our class. Capitalism has driven us apart, its drive for more profit at any cost and hierarchical divisons make us insensitive to the plights of others – because they are below us. Yes, you guessed it I am a socialist. No, not a communist – a socialist, there is a difference. I believe that when economics and class structures are leveled then we will live in a truly equal (and then free) world. When we do not rely on gaining for ourselves, but for our neighbors then we will be a free society. When we can work together to end poverty of all peoples then democracy will be true.

This can all be changed as the decision making power lies with the people. Right now the people do not realize this because those in power use fear to control and gain more power. War, terrorism, flu pandemics – be very afraid and give more power to your government to protect you. No, this is where people need to step up and be more involved democrats (as in a supporter of democracy – not political party)! If we truly live in a democracy then we the people need to be sure that the powerful know what is at stake. Democracy is more than just an idea and a great white building – democracy is a mindset of the people. Democracy is more than a building and less than a person. Democracy lives outside the great buildings of Washington D.C., but has more power than each man or woman gives to it. The decision making power seems to fearfully reside with the primp and proper politicians on the hill, but truly the power resides in the hands of the people – we only need more passion and compassion!

This is just a glance at what concepts and values are in the world I imagine for the future. I believe it to be a possibility. Even more than a possibility, a hope. When we embolden and embody our passions and compassion, when we realize career politicians have no place in America, when we recognize that we each hold the power to help one another and change the world, only then will my imagination be served no longer. The burning issues of passion and compassion live on my campus, in my community, and in our country. When a student refuses to listen to all sides and later decide on their own, when a community leader pushes for a ban of rights for underserved people, when a country bows to fear – this is when the burning issues of passion and compassion rule the day. I strongly believe that the youth of today hold the creativity and the answers to reverse this trend and change the world for the better of society. The youth are the future, we are the future, what do want to see in your future?