Social entrepreneurs are the latest trend
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David Flower Top of page

"I teach because I love children—it's not the money. If I were interested in money I would find a different profession."

I am sure you have heard this from colleagues at various times and it certainly meshes with the latest in management theory. In part 12 of "Mastering Enterprise," which appears in the May 20 Financial Post, an article by a visiting professor at the Imperial College management school in London, England, makes my blood boil. It is a classic piece of "free-market" propaganda that is given legitimacy because it fits with the philosophy of the day. The article, "Going public with private practices," features a half-page photo depicting a stereotypical image of a woman teacher dressed for business sitting at a desk in front of a blackboard. The photo's caption reads, "Getting down to business lessons as the entrepreneur enters the classroom."

The article discusses the next step in the development of the market model—creating social businesses—and calls the drivers of social businesses "social entrepreneurs." As the author suggests, "the public sector takes on the characteristics of a business, introduces generic management principles and creates the framework for entrepreneurial activity." The social entrepreneurs are school principals and classroom teachers who "have a vision of the service they want to deliver and the organization they need to build" to deliver that service.

It all sounds fascinatingly theoretical but that theory is all tied to the basic belief that the private sector can do things better and more cheaply than the public sector even though there is growing evidence that such a claim is basically untrue.

There are problems with the concept of "the social entrepreneur." The first thing we must ask ourselves is, "Will it improve the education that children receive?" Evidence from privately run schools suggests that the answer is no. There is a second, subtler problem. The author suggests that, financial rewards are unimportant to the social entrepreneur. He writes, "For the social entrepreneur, the rewards do not include personal wealth-creation" and "The social entrepreneur's own financial return is likely to be modest." The motivation for the social entrepreneur is in doing what is deemed good for society and thereby receiving personal recognition, enhanced influence and status. This is taking things back to the 1920s and 1930s when teachers taught for meager salaries but everyone thought they were such nice people, the very pillars of society.

Apparently this view still holds true—those involved in the social sector should not aspire to make money. We should be content with status or personal recognition or enhanced influence while educating students to enter the free-market system and make their fortunes.

What nonsense this supposedly eminent "visiting professor" and businessman talks.