Friday, September 30, 2005

Tanya Bannister

Sandy Frew reports:

On Sunday 18th September Peter and Kaoru Bannister opened up their home to host an NTC event. The idea was to raise awareness of, and funds for, NTC. Over 40 people attended what was a memorable day.

Peter gave the introductions, followed by a virtuoso piano recital by Tanya Bannister ( Tanya also took time to speak to the audience about how her generation felt about the world today and the need to take action.

Tom immediately got everyone on his side by showing a photograph of his lovely baby daughter Florence and then delivered an entertaining and informative talk on NTC in his usual authoritative style. Two NTC videos were then shown and Peter summed up with a call to action.

Everybody then retired to sample Vitameal and to network.

Many thanks to all who took part and assisted in this very successful event. Hopefully this will inspire others to follow suit.
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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Objections to Social Entrepreneurship

If you have been telling people about social entrepreneurship for any length of time, you have no doubt discovered that there are folks who object to the concept. These objections to social entrepreneurship are frequently expressed in moral and ethical tones. Although I am persuaded that many of these objections are invoked merely to allow the objector to pretend to some moral high ground rather than expressions of real and fervent concerns, dismissing the objector does not disarm the objection.

Three common variations of the ethical objection (in my experience) are:

  1. "I don't believe it's moral to make money off other peoples' problems."
  2. "No one who engages in humanitarian work for a profit can have a good motive."
  3. "Social entrepreneurship is unethical."

I have heard all three of the above more than once.

With regard to the first objection, I agree, I don't believe it's right to seek to profit from other peoples' misery: that's why I am not in the tobacco business. Indeed, I don't think that I've ever met a social entrepreneur who has sought to profit from the pain of others. Just as good doctors and nurses attempt to cure disease, and to alleviate human pain and suffering, social entrepreneurs attempt to solve social and humanitarian problems, and alleviate the pain these unsolved social and humanitarian problems create.

However, unlike doctors and nurses, social entrepreneurs are paid for results produced rather than efforts made. Social entrepreneurs aren't bureaucrats! Perpetuating social and humanitarian problems doesn't work to the advantage of an honest social entrepreneur.

It is only by creating social goods that social entrepreneurs reap a profit (aka as an income to live on). Social entrepreneurs are creative risk takers in service to humanity. Those of us attracted to social entrepreneurship typically want to earn our keep by making the world a better place. We, unlike more traditional entrepreneurs, measure our success in terms of a double bottom line: mission results (the production of social and humanitarian good) and profit earned.

If social entrepreneurs earn their living off of the suffering of others, then how much more so do doctors and nurses.

The second objection listed above (no good motive) strikes me as unnecessarily dogmatic. I will concede that there may well be perversely motivated social entrepreneurs, but I know that such a categorical claim is without question false. Although I do think motives are important, I am not psychic. Personally, Kant's deontological moral and ethical stance appeals to me, but I have given up trying to scrutinize the inscrutable.

I am fairly certain that most of us have good and bad points, and that we unavoidably hold mixed motives when undertaking almost any task. I am less certain that severely malnourished children should do without food until my motives (or anyone else's) are more saintly. In my case, my wife and I have a 7 week old daughter (our first) at home. I don't believe that my efforts to feed starving children abroad should involve my starving my own child at home.

My motives are hopelessly mixed. I find the starvation of children anywhere in the world an outrage. Although we have the resource to bring this outrage to an end, after 50 years of sincere, but mostly ineffectual efforts by governments and aid organisations, 15,000 children under the age of five still perish/starve each and every day. I want to see this problem solved, but not enough to deny my own family food, shelter, clothing or any other normal amenity that people in the UK expect. I admit I am selfish, but would the starving children be better off if I were to fold my enterprise? (Over the past 3 years Nourish the Children has provided over 32 million meals to feed severely malnourished children around the world Nourish the Children.) Would the children we feed really be better off if I stop working to feed them until I become an ascended master?

How about you?

Assuming you are a social entrepreneur, are your motives entirely unselfish? Would the beneficiaries of your enterprise be better off if you forgot about them, and took a job with British American Tobacco?

Does anyone really believe that employees of more traditional humanitarian organisations work without even the slightest thought of gaining a personal benefit? Are they really all saints, ascended masters or bodisattvas? Why did the Red Cross pay its former president Elizabeth Dole 200k per year? Why did she accept it?

As you have probably noticed the "motive objection" irritates me. So does the third objection: "Social entrepreneurship is unethical." People who advance this objection, in my experience, aren't able to explain why social entrepreneurship is unethical. In most cases, when questioned they respond: "It just doesn't sound like a good idea." Now that is a powerful moral and ethical objection. (I'm being ironic.)

Moral and ethical objections are often raised, but rarely are the objections substantial. This is in part because most people don't bother to examine their own hodge podge notions about morality, ethics, and right and wrong. Many when questioned will say that they just know that they know. This moral certitude, confirmed by beliefs and prejudice may be comfortable, but is it sane and coherent?

We might start by asking those who object to social entrepreneurship on moral and ethical grounds to be a little more specific. Are their objections deontological? consequentialist? Virtue based? Teleological? Does the objector hold, as does J. R. Searle, that "ought" can be derived from "is"? Or, does the objector follow Hume, and argue that "ought" cannot be derived from "is"? When evaluating a moral issue which is primary, the act, the motive or the consequence? Perhaps the objector agrees with the German theologian DietrichBonhoeffer's position in his Ethics, and believes that the attempt to gain a knowledge of "good" and "evil" is the root cause of all inhumanity, and that we should seek out the will of God rather than seeking to try to distinguish between right and wrong. Or maybe the objector follows Nietzsche and a few other existentialist philosophers and holds that humanitarian acts are in themselves immoral. How we might best respond depends on what the objector considers immoral and unethical.

In most cases I think the claim that social entrepreneurship is inherently unethical is rooted in the belief that the profit the social entrepreneur earns, is earned at the expense of the intended recipient (e.g. starving orphans in Africa). If that were to prove to be the case, then there might be some merit to this objection. It might point to an inherently teleopathic system, but it doesn't. That is not to say that all social entrepreneurs are supremely efficient, but rather that the marketplace does not favour inefficient, high cost, low quality providers. In time inefficient providers are driven from the field. The administrative inefficiencies of these entrepreneurial providers, however, pale in comparison to the inefficiencies of many governmental and non-profit providers of social and humanitarian goods. I suspect there is often a latent assumption that non-profit means no or low cost. But, does it really mean that?

Consider the case of the UK's Child Support Agency (CSA). It has recently come to light that it costs 54 pence to deliver £1 (100 pence) of benefit. (,11499,1565197,00.html) It is hard to imagine any social entrepreneur operating at that level of administrative inefficiency, and remaining in business for long. Business and entrepreneurial incentives, when properly applied, help to eliminate inefficiencies, and to bring more and better products and services to those who require them. The entrance of entrepreneurs into the UK communication marketplace illustrates my point.

In the not too distant past, the UK telecommunication network was run by the government. I well remember how I feared the arrival of my unitemised phone bill. As an American expat living in Britain, I make a fair number of calls back to the States. Under the old non-profit state system my bills frequently exceeded £400. My new carrier gives me free calls to the States, Canada and Australia. As a result my bill now rarely tops £30. The old system impoverished me (literally). On more than a few occasions I sold books from my library to raise the money I needed to pay my telephone bill. The new system leaves money on my table, and books on the shelves of my library. The efforts of profit seeking telecom entrepreneurs have benefited rich and poor alike.

Today social entrepreneurs are working to produce similar results in a variety of social and humanitarian fields. Indeed, we might well ask given the obvious teleopathy of established governmental and non-profit efforts to eradicate humanitarian problems, if it is moral to advocate the continuance of these ineffectual, resource draining, high cost programmes. By Einstein's measure it is slightly insane to advocate doing the same thing over and over, and yet expecting a different (better) result. In my opinion, it's time for the objectors to reconsider the morality of their opposition. It is time for them to remove the mote from their own eyes, before they spend too much time condemning the specks in ours.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

What do you think?

I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones of you who will be truly happy will be those of you who have sought and found how to serve.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
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Sunday, September 25, 2005

In Praise of Social Entrepreneurship

Every six seconds a child under the age of 5 dies from the effects of malnutrition (UNICEF). That means that by this time tomorrow 15,000 children under the age of 5 will have perished. It is important to note that the consequences of this tragedy reach beyond the regions of the earth where it is the unfortunate norm. Many of the most pressing problems we in the West face (e.g. war and terrorism) are at root the consequence of unsolved humanitarian problems. See

This humanitarian catastrophe has been with us despite the best efforts of many passionately committed aid workers for more than 50 years. Although we once may have once lacked the resource needed to feed the starving, that has not been the case for a great many years.

Marianne Williamson observes and asks:

Thirty-five thousand people a day die of hunger on earth, and there's no dearth of food. The question is not, 'what kind of God would let children starve?' but rather, 'What kind of people let children starve?'

The answer to Ms. Williamson's question is: Good people who misunderstand the nature of the problem and are misinformed about how best to solve it are the kind of people who let children starve.

Einstein remarked that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and yet ever expecting a different result. By Einstein's measure our approach to bringing an end to starvation has a touch of insanity about it.

The humanitarian aid industry has until recently tended to exclude from its ranks those who have the skills and experience needed to solve social and humanitarian problems: namely, business entrepreneurs. This exclusion, I believe, has retarded progress towards resolving many social problems.

Traditionally, only the independently wealthy; saints; and small numbers of people employed by charities have been able to put their time and talent along with their treasure into humanitarian work. In other words, only people like Prince Charles, Mother Theresa or Elizabeth Dole have been able to contribute of their time and talent unreservedly. The rest of us have been limited to making contributions from our treasure, and perhaps an occasional contribution of our time. Our talent, however, is too often unwelcome. We are asked to fund, but not otherwise participate in the humanitarian tasks at hand. As business entrepreneurs, and/or members of the public, our motives for wanting to be involved, other than as a donor, are too frequently considered suspect by aid workers.

If you visit any of the world's great business schools, such as those at Harvard, Stanford or Oxford, you will encounter only a very few students who are contemplating careers in the humanitarian sector.

Why is this the case?

These well trained problem solvers are at the beginning of their careers, and most often burdened with substantial debts accumulated over their many years of study. They need to earn a substantial return on their investment of time and money just to break even, not to mention securing their own and their dependents' future.

Investment banking, marketing, consulting, venture capital and entrepreneurial ventures offer them the best opportunity to achieve this end. Humanitarian careers, unless one finds a position resembling Elizabeth Dole's $2,000,000 per annum at the Red Cross, don't offer much financial security. Young graduates, and many others, often feel forced to choose between "success" and "significance."

Perhaps some of you have felt a similar pull. We want to lead lives of significance, but first we need to secure our finances. Maybe when we retire we will be able to afford to spend some time and money on things that matter, but until then there are bills to pay. Have you been there? I have.

Several months ago I interviewed a woman in London who was investigating the NTC humanitarian entrepreneurship career path. She had previously worked with orphans in Africa for four years. She told me that helping to care for orphans in Africa is her life's great passion. I asked her why if that is her passion she left Africa for London. Her answer: "I got tired of being poor."

Isn't it odd that we can seek to earn a small fortune marketing lung cancer, stroke and heart attack for a tobacco company, or perhaps just a good living by selling cigarettes at a corner market, and few will think ill of us? We can work at leaving the world a little less well off than we found it, and people will accept that we must earn our keep. And, as long as the work is legal, whatever it is-- with one exception--it is ok to earn a good living.

That exception: It is not ok, in the minds of many, to try to earn a good living solving serious humanitarian problems. As a consequence we can supply anyone on earth, even the most destitute, with cigarettes, but we can't manage to get meals that cost the equivalent of 3 cigarettes a day, to the 15,000 children whose lives will end in agony tonight! Think about that for a minute.

It's basic psychology: You will always get more of the behavior you reward and less of what you do not. Behavior rewarded is repeated, and behavior unrewarded is eventually extinguished. That's how the world works. Somehow this basic truth seems to have escaped a great many members of the general public.

The solution to feeding malnourished children in other lands does not and should not require us to deny our own children food.

When it comes to solving humanitarian problems people have somehow come to believe that the ordinary rewards of business are a bad thing. There were those in the old Soviet Union who believed that if the profit was taken out of food production people would have more to eat, but history tells us that what they got was food shortages and corruption.

In contrast, consider how effectively entrepreneurs have brought down the cost of communication. I remember when I feared the arrival of my telephone bill. Now I spend pennies for what I once spent pounds. Incentives to provide and improve the delivery of products and services really work to produce good results when properly applied.

This same entrepreneurial energy is now being effectively focused on many different social and humanitarian problems. In the case of the Nourish the Children Alliance 32,000,000 plus meals to feed children at risk of death from starvation have been donated over the past three years as a direct consequence of this focus.

The Oxford NTC Alliance Ambassador is dedicated to promoting the cause of humanitarian entrepreneurship. Although my own humanitarian enterprise is aligned with Nourish the Children and its Alliance partners (e.g. Feed the Children, World Vision, and other carefully vetted NGOs), I hope the content posted here will prove of value to all of you who seek to earn your keep by acting as an entrepreneurial force for good.
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