This is the third part of a series of posts about my first impressions on the social sector in the US, compared to the sector in my home country:
It has been five weeks since I got to the US to train in the social sector and I would have never believed I’d be so fascinated by it in such a short time. Social ventures are supported and become successful, the general public wants to participate in it in one way or another and great ideas are shared, accepted and scaled. As part of MOLE, Movimiento de Liderazgo Educativo (in English, Educational Leadership Movement), we had discussed so much about how to build a thriving social sector back in Peru, how to convince investors and beneficiaries that government policies were not the only solution to our nation’s problems, that even we were not convinced that there was a realistic way to achieve this in time. Our huge impetus was accumulating and running the risk of hitting a wall too hard to demolish.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned about the social sector here will sure be helpful to make things clearer back home and to channel our efforts.
Isolated ideas don’t change countries
Last April, Lima hosted the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2013 and in the event’s Social Innovation Summit, where the most impactful and ambitious social ventures in Peru were represented, the main conclusion was very straightforward: social ventures in Latin America are isolated within the social sector, and more so from the government, civil society and the corporate sector. The goal proposed was to develop organizational infrastructure for social ventures to have available support, unconditioned funding, and strong networks and promotion with all the other sectors. Peru’s social entrepreneurs did a great job in communicating the main problem we have to get things done and to generate real impact.
At the beginning of 2011, my first year as a teacher, me and my fellow teachers from Enseña Perú would only HEAR about other non-profits, some had been involved in other projects but had not had contact with them since joining the teaching movement. We even had conflicts with foundations working at schools because of lack of coordination between the two ventures and, despite a large presence of non-profits in the area, I rarely got news from other organizations that had an impact on the school I was working at. Seeking information was seen with suspicion and after a few attempts I considered it a bit of a waste of time. Clearly, as we say in Peru referencing the Marinera dance, everyone was dancing with their own handkerchief.
On the flipside, the situation in the US is diametrically different. Non-profits work together to strengthen their teams, they share knowledge and have not one, as we would like to have back home, but a great number of big networking events. There are non-profits dedicated to social venture consulting and others, like Ashoka, that promote the spreading use of their own changemaking structures among other organizations.
The most impactful non-profits get funding from the State Department, they are frequently welcomed into meetings with representatives of the government and most of the larger social ventures, not coincidentally, have their headquarters in the Washington DC area. The social sector is part of the greater tapestry of political decision-making and its many variants are represented and even have ways to influence their government’s policy.
As I have mentioned before, the private sector also contributes to social entrepreneurship. Early examples like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supporting organizations that benefit children’s health with grants are an evidence of how deeply rooted this culture is. The tradition still goes on today with mutual support between social businesses and retail companies in cases like TOMS Shoes or SoapBox Soaps, both embarking in the one-for-one business model. Shareholder value creation is giving way to social value creation nowadays, which widely opens the doors of the market to social ventures.
The social sector in the US is clearly a well-constructed system that is integrated into the government, the market and civil society. That same spirit is only beginning to take shape in Perú and that can only fill us with hope.