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Nov 19, 2014

Women Are Natural Leaders for Social Enterprise

Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, founder of Uncommon Union wrote in Forbes, “The new field of social entrepreneurship is ideally suited to women, who have always had to meet complex demands that pit community against individualism. In short, we understand the necessity of seeing the economy and the world as an interconnected and interdependent system.”

Social enterprises are organizations that apply commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.  Most current social enterprises devote 100% of their profits to a charitable organization and are owned wholly by a charitable organization.  For-profit social enterprises are also beginning to emerge, such as Maiden Nation, an online fashion retailer whose profits are reinvested into women’s entrepreneurship projects.

Women predominate in social enterprise in the United Kingdom.  Social Enterprise UK released a report indicating that twice as many women run social enterprises than lead small businesses in the UK.  In contrast, there is a profound lack of diversity in social enterprise leadership in Central Ohio.  It is imperative we attract more talented business women to support, engage, and invest in social entrepreneurship.

Indications elsewhere are that more diverse involvement is key to making social enterprise a commonplace part of our local economy.  Writing about the UK, Sarah Morrison notes, “Women are almost twice as likely to reach the top ranks in social enterprises as they are in mainstream businesses.  More than 90 per cent of companies that focus on tackling social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, as opposed to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises that have all-male directors.”  This finding suggests that more diverse involvement in supporting social enterprise would have two benefits:  increase the number of women in leadership positions and strengthen our local economy and nonprofits.

This won’t happen without focused and concerted effort.  Notes Stephen Miller, senior researcher at UnLtd, “Research shows women are much less likely to consider starting up their own business, although they are more likely than men to want to start a social enterprise or charity. And when asked where they would go for either practical advice or finance, they said family, friends and government (in that order). As such there is a lot to be done in terms raising awareness about social entrepreneurship and developing a real ecosystem of support for social enterprise start-ups.  For a great Q&A on the lessons learned and challenges faced in advancing women in social enterprise in the UK, go to this link.

Building a network of advocates for socially-focused enterprise is one important avenue.  For example, the organization Women in Social Enterprise (WISE) states it was “born out of a need to connect women with a single goal – to use their passion to make a difference in the world.  WISE is a fusion of brainpower, experiences, knowledge, talents and skills. All our members benefit from the high energy and passion represented within our network and affiliates.”

In the inaugural programs of the Center for Social Enterprise Development women interested in learning about social enterprise comprised 57 percent of attendees.  If the UK pattern represents the potential in our community, we need to encourage even more women to learn about and hopefully start social enterprises.  Encouragement can come from seeing more women business leaders involved in supporting, participating, and investing in programs, forums, and start-ups in social enterprise.