As a corporate strategy person, I totally get why traditional for-profit companies seek to grow: to make ever more money for their shareholders. Fine. But what I don’t get are social enterprises – however you define the term – when they talk about the “do-good equivalent” of the word “growth”, which is often referred to as “scale”. If the end goal of a for-profit corporation is to make as much money as possible (infinity + beyond $$$), what is the end goal of a nonprofit or for-profit social enterprise?
As a famous person once said: It’s the impact, stupid! And so the discussion becomes, in every single conference since the term “social enterprise” entered the mainstream a decade ago, about how we in fact can scale the impact of such organizations over time. A recent session during the 2012 Skoll World Forum, for example, was focused exclusively on the idea of how to envisage scaling beyond initial seed funding and “exit strategies” for social enterprises.
Although the panelists in this session touch on the subject, I feel not enough space in today’s literature is dedicated to a question that has somewhat plagued me for a long time – in fact, it has plagued me ever since I got interested in social enterprises.
The question is this: why the heck does everyone seem (so obsessively) to equate the scaling of impact with the scaling of the actual organization? In this post, allow me to make an argument for the importance of finding an “impact offtaker” as a critical scaling mechanism that supersedes that of organizational growth when it comes to social enterprises.