Sex, Drugs, and… Social Enterprise??

rock star!When I think of  a Rock Star a number of descriptive words come to mind.  Sex. Drugs. Women. Sin. Howling unapologetically into the mic. Obscenely cavorting, hip thrusting, and speaker humping on stage.When the Japanese think of Rock Star, they think of this guy:

Could the Japanese student at the Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Conference who dubbed Skoll founder Bill Drayton a “Rock Star” be experiencing some cultural displacement? Maybe, but referring to philanthropic leaders as rock stars is prevalent in all sorts of American contexts. For instance, fellow blogger Allison over at Entry Level Living has an entire series dedicated to “social change rockstars” Triple Pundit  writer Tome Shueneman describes how the website facilitates “rockstar agents of change” . Even in a casual exchange with a friend about social enterprise, there was mention of the emergence of Gen Y’s rockstars .

When did social change become this sexy?

There have been men and women committing their lives to the greater good for a long time but we don’t hear people referring to Mother Teresa or Siddartha as rockstars. In fact, they were revered for qualities that were completely antithetical to the rock star archetype. Revered social change leaders were said to exhibit utmost humility, a deep degree of sacrifice for their cause and even in Jesus Christ “super star”‘s case, martyrdom for a greater good.

Social Enterprise has distinguished itself from non-profit work by exhibiting an intangible “cool factor”. I think this coolness is especially appealing to Gen Y and that the lack of luster in nonprofit leadership is part of the leadership gap being experienced by so many nonprofits right now. Since 80s babies grew up getting gold stars for coming to class in kindergarten it’s easy to see how the humble over-worked and underpaid nonprofit leader just looks…tired. The martyrdom model of contributing to the world meaningfully just doesn’t seem as exciting. But the sexified social entrepreneur offers something different. It offers the perfect blend of  altruism and society’s gold stars for being one of those cool kids who is finding innovative ways of changing the world.It’s a field that doesn’t shy away from celebrating the  the egoic nature of leading something great and I think is part of the impetus to become the next Social Enterprise “rock star”.

This of course comes with its problems.  For instance, too much emphasis on the entrepreneur’s passion and star quality can thwart the organization’s ability to grow beyond the founder as it matures.  All this buzz behind changemakers may also  attract people like Jason Sadler who want to make big changes without paying close enough attention to whether their efforts are effecively changing diddly squat. The rock star status may also encourage a lot more people to put the “social enterprise” stamp on a project that is no different than many existing non-profit organizations. In the race to be the hottest innovator, self-dubbed rock stars may be overlooking the decision to have more impact by joining forces with experienced practitioners rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

That said, I think it’s great that making impact has become so popular. Doing good IS cool and the individuals committed to doing good are well deserving of praise especially through Social Enterprise. It takes a lot to use an evolving model with a young financing structure to successfully straddle the difficult goal of being financially sustainable and socially meaningful. Anyone in it for the entourage will be weeded out fairly quickly. As the field of social entrepreneurship matures, so will the notion of those at its helm. For now, I’m not opposed to some egoic motivation for exploring how someone can do their part to change someone else’s condition.

So to the up and coming Bill Drayton’s of the world, I say, Rock On!


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