If scale is what got us in this mess, is scale really what will get us out of it?

There’s a need, it seems, to acquire and expand. And it’s not just in our personal and material lives. Startups want to scale — that’s the most critical stage for them. How do we expand? How do we robotize it so we can speed up the process?

Nonprofits need to collect data for “impact” reports, illustrating how their ideas are not only innovative, but scalable.

It’s a numbers game to grow and, if possible, grow exponentially. That’s the sign of success — numerical growth.

Everything needs to have scale. Scalability is like sustainability now — another simple concept made far too abstract and complex.

Yet, what used to be sustainable can no longer be so because we live at roller coaster speeds. The small-town businesses struggle against the giants because they cannot “scale” or, perhaps, they don’t want to. Hence, as consumers, we have to decide do we go for the local “brand” or the corporate one? It’s one or the other, it seems.

So, should scalability really be such a big focus?

Sustainable lives are smaller lives. They’re lives that are in sync with the community, with the earth, with each other. Scalable lives require us to extend ourselves beyond ourselves.

In the social enterprise world, scale is plenty important for most actors. The impact investors, the foundations, the social entrepreneurs they’re all talking about how to scale, how to measure impact at scale, how to build the missing middle or how to select and supports those few enterprises that can grow. I am (and have been even more before) certainly ingrained with this mindset.

Now from a perspective of (environmental, at least) sustainability in many regards it was the advent of large scale production and consumption that got us into the mess we’re in right now. The disconnection between production and consumption of food, the carbon costly supply chains, the export of environmental degradation to the places which can manage it the least… all of it came on the back of rapidly scaling enterprises and global systems. It has elevated environmental and social challenges to a size of equal proportion meaning that we now no longer talk about the survival of individual communities but of everybody (well, except maybe for the 1% – they can afford to pay their way out of the mess).

One answer to these challenges have been touted as globally scalable social endeavors – be it the Gates Foundation or Grameen Bank. However, isn’t this just repeating the same process which got us in trouble in the first place?

The signs are there: much-touted microfinance have been shown at scale to have little effect on poverty (http://blog.linuskendall.com/microfinance-contribution-on-poverty-reductio) – in Andhra the scale of microfinance got so out of control that it contributed to a spate of suicide and eventually extreme government reaction.

Read the original article here:


Is there even such a thing as social business?

A recent article I read as part of the preparation for our CEO’s attendance at the Skoll World Forum, got me thinking of one of the discussions that I’ve had with the other fellows and people I know about social business. The discussion basically questions if there really is such a thing as “social” business? Isn’t in the end business, when it comes down to it, always about making money? Will the incentives not always be there to seek profit as opposed to social impact? Vice-versa, if the social impact motive is there – will the business not loose out and become unsustainable?
The article in question was calling for new legal and corporate structures, to address parts of this issue, saying that with the appropriate governance structures the incentives can be aligned and external stakeholders such as program participants, funders and supporters can be re-assured that what they’re actually standing behind is indeed on proper “social” ground. 

While working with Waste Ventures, I have been seeing quite how complicated this can get for a hybrid social enterprise – understanding the structure that we have been building can be tricky at times, with a combination of charity and for-profit entities. A simpler way of doing it, with alternative corporate formats might indeed help enterprises like us along.

However – I always get the feeling that corporate and legal structures can’t quite cover the whole issue, and while they are necessary, I do think there is a fundamental question that needs to be answered – is it in fact so that in the end all corporate organizations will divert to focus on profit as opposed to impact (and is that even a bad/unwanted

thing?!) and if not, what is required from the founders, the corporate structures, the governance and the ways the businesses are set-up to retain the social mission focus?

Virtual leadership development workshops – join online at AIESEC IC Live, starting from 10:30 GMT+5.5!

Today I'm part of the hosting team for a virtual leadership development agenda that is going to happen connected to the AIESEC International Congress in Hyderabad. There are going to be several sessions on youth leadership and they're open for anyone to join.

The agenda is as follows:
  • 10:30 GMT+5.5 – Leading Yourself
  • 11:30 GMT+5.5 – Global Connections
  • 14:30 GMT+5.5 – Leading change
  • 16:00 GMT+5.5 – The Experience of Leaders
The sessions are going to be hosted by a group of individuals dedicated to leadership and change and I think it's going to be a pretty interesting day. Joining is easy, just go to http://www.aiesec.org and click "IC Live".

Loving the social business buzz at AIESEC’s International Congress


Check more pictures from the conference here.