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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Social Purpose Enterprises" (Jack Quarter, Sherida Ryan, and Andrea Chan)

TITLE: Social Purpose Enterprises: Case Studies for Social Change
AUTHOR: Jack Quarter, Sherida Ryan, and Andrea Chan
PUBLISHER: Toronto, ON: University of Toronto, 2014, (336 pages)

Is money the sole purpose for businesses? What about organizations that not only make money but serves a social purpose? Noticing that the latter are becoming more prominent in society, three Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto seek to find out more about them through three fundamental questions.
  1. How these businesses impact their employees to independent serve society? 
  2. How the businesses impact shareholders?
  3. What are the challenges these businesses have?
Together with many other contributors, the authors ponder many things. How to measure impact? Is efficiency the best criterion? What about effectiveness? Looking at their own research as well as other works from around the world, the authors are quite thorough in their probe. They look at many angles and contexts surrounding social enterprises.
  • Businesses that engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) [examples: Ben & Jerry's and Body Shop]
  • social businesses [example: Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus]
  • Social businesses earning income for a non-profit [examples: Habitat for Humanity; Salvation Army; University of Toronto Press]
  • Social business receiving support from non-profit [examples: United Way; Raging Spoon; Abel Enterprises; Crazy Cooks]

The authors begin by defining social purpose enterprises as follows:
"A social purpose enterprise Рa subgroup of the classification social enterprise Рis a market-based entity founded and supported by a non-profit organization for the purposes of the economic and social benefit of persons on the social margins who are employed in or trained through the enterprise. A social purpose enterprise generates revenue from the sale of services, and most often it and the supporting organization benefit from the contributions of government programs, individual donors, volunteers, foundations, and supportive clientèle. A social purpose enterprise is intended to yield a return to society from this investment because its employees are being prepared to function more fully and independently." (17)
The twelve case studies are all based on either Greater Toronto or Southeastern Ontario. They cover a range of different groups like immigrants, people with different levels of abilities/disabilities, homeless, aboriginal groups, and social housing residents. Range of services include food and catering, childcare, pottery, housing, etc. They look at credit programs, training and education. Research methods are primarily qualitative with interviews and rapport built between the researchers and their participants. The book is arranged in four sections.
  1. Marginalized by Stigma
  2. Women
  3. Urban Poor and Immigrants
  4. Youth
The research is not only interesting but highlights the history behind the social problems, and how they become what they are today. With the aim to be part of the solution rather than simply dishing out research material for academic purposes, this book itself offers to give readers greater insights into the struggles of the people groups studied. At the same time, it gives more visibility to the social responsibility efforts of the organizations taking part. We can learn from the various case studies. More importantly, the businesses are platforms for giving people their self-esteem, that they are helping themselves in return. I like to use the metaphor of bridges. These enterprises are becoming bridges not only to reach out the the marginalized groups in society, they are also being affected by what they do. As they build bridges to connect with the vulnerable, the shunned in society, the marginalized, they will feel helped as well to see the common ground that we all share as humanity. The authors use this book as a way also to highlight aboriginal concerns, something that has been talked about often but the efforts in helping them are not often publicized. We learn about the concerns of the new Canadian immigrants, noticing that while many were highly educated, self-perception plays a significant role in their desire to seek out social services.  Three chapters are on the urban poor and immigrants while one is dedicated to youths.

The last chapter of the book is essentially the summation of the research. They point out two major influences for the social purpose enterprise movements: Humanism and Neoliberal, with some arguing that the latter is a bigger influence. These movements impact individuals, community, organizations, and social capital. Calling government funding as the "elephant in the room," there is a strong tendency to reduce financial dependence on government funding. For the authors, it is simply "modified social welfare" that is needed to cope with the changing social landscape.  This calls for a different measurement factors with regards to business goals and successes. Perhaps, these social purpose enterprises are ways in which individuals and social purpose businesses are showing the way for governments to sit up, take notice, and to adapt their programs more effectively. This book has primarily Canadian content, but the lessons learned can be useful for other nations.

My personal take on the work is that the conclusions are only as good as the participants and the organizations studied. I caution readers from trying to use a qualitative work based on twelve case studies in Ontario, and blindly apply them to other places. For instance, just because the humanistic and neoliberal concerns apply for these twelve cases do not necessarily mean that they are the norm for the rest of Canada. There are many other faith-based organizations that are doing a lot of social work that is motivated by their love of God and living faith. Different places will have different concerns. That said, this book is a respectable attempt to try to gain a snapshot of how present businesses can be part of the solution, and to start thinking creatively how they can participate in social concerns.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of University of Toronto Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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