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IIC: A New Catalyst for Social Enterprise

October 8, 2010

Fall has arrived in Chicago. Almost overnight, the summer haze vanished and a crisp chill arrived in the air – a lovely but sad hint of things to come. As fall is regarded as the season of change, it seems appropriate that at Investing In Communities we’re gearing up for the national launch of our website and primary business platform, IIC Online. It also seems apropos that the September issue of the Harvard Business Review has focused its attention on a “sea change” underway in the private and civil sectors- one that is revising business as usual and promising to deliver both social and financial returns.

This sea change is the rise of “social entrepreneurship”, and the growth of innovative partnerships between corporations and civil society organizations(CSOs)*. In the lead article, “A New Alliance for Global Change,” Bill Drayton and Valeria Budinich of Ashoka make a case for increasing private – civil sector integration, via social entrepreneurship and corporate-CSO partnerships. They argue that merging social missions with market ventures will be instrumental- even essential- to solving the 21st century’s most urgent problems.

Drayton and Budinich explore how private firms can benefit from engaging with the emerging sector of social enterprise. Their exercise is worthwhile as the sector is broad and still highly fluid, with many actors whose relative positions and functions within it are not always clearly articulated or defined. The authors argue that corporations can gain competitive advantage and strengthen their bottom line by strategically engaging in social entrepreneurship. They identify corporate-CSO partnerships and “Hybrid Value Chains” (HVCs) as two of the most promising avenues for private sector engagement. The collaborative partnerships they highlight are redefining traditional charitable relationships between CSOs and private corporations.

In light of IIC’s recent soft launch and pending national launch, it’s worth reflecting on this article, and its relevance to IIC. Over the course of the next several posts (hopefully more digestible than one massive stream), I’ll define IIC’s position and potential role within the new space of social entrepreneurship. More importantly, I’ll discuss why IIC can become a valuable tool for both corporations and CSOs as they attempt to engage in this space. As I will explain, IIC is both an example of and a catalyst for the corporate-CSO partnerships that Drayton and Budinich endorse. Thus, IIC will not only occupy the social enterprise sector, but will activate it to greater effect. Intrigued? I hope so, because this is the first post in a 4-part series that will be going up, rapid fire, over the next few days.

* IIC refers to its 501 (c) (3) nonprofit Partners as Nongovernmental Organizations, or NGOs. Drayton and Budinich use the term “civil society organizations” (CSO)s to describe similarly mission-driven organizations. For our purposes, the acronyms CSO and NGO are interchangeable.

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