The problem with social business

According to the tech hype, social business is the unification of 15 years of Internet trends into a nw economic model, or the potential for a new economic model. It is a model rooted in the elite world of technology and computing, and in my simplistic and reductionist view, a redefining of a customer focused framework. The idea goes that through the collision of social with business a new type of business can emerge with strategies and products driven by social principles. At its purest, this social business makes decisions through input from a community not a board, and has a strategy driven by what customers want not focus groups.

In a transformational enterprise sense, social business is a powerful concept which promises to enable profit growth by enabling enterprises to get more stuff right than wrong and grow profits.

It is still a little too narrow for me. Consider the concept of Social Business outlined by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus. He claims the model of capitalism is broken and too focused on generating monetary profits rather than other social benefits like education, health, and longevity. This idea of the social business crosses the North South divide and is a powerful model for transforming the lives of the poorest citizens both in the north and the south. Central to this model is the idea that micro-businesses run largely by women can lift families out of poverty. If a businesses performance is measured by the impact on people and the environment the outcomes will be very different to a business which is measured by volume of profits generated.

I find this model of capitalism with a better set of KPI’s exhilarating. Harvard economist Umair Haque has written a fascinating Kindle book about this called Betterness: Economics for Humans. Like Yumus he calls for the negative focus of economics to be transformed into a positive discipline where economics measures wealth by real outcomes; environmental, health, education, and living standards.

The tech definition of social business needs to be redefined to focus less on the tools and more on outcomes. What would truly make an enterprise social? Building an organisation that has at its core an ethos of social responsibility and a drive to accelerate human potential. The tech community is perfectly placed to enable this. Consider that there are more phones connected to the Internet than computers. That is an amazing opportunity to create social tools to enable micro commerce in poorer countries, to distribute educational materials via the Internet, to create mentor programs with people in wealthier areas, to enable remote and free health checks. The opportunities are limitless and represent a better outcome from from transformative technologies than profit generation.

What do you think?