The Year in Social Enterprise – an Interview with Jim Schorr

Happy New Year! Sustainable Law Group, P.C. and its clients and partners enjoyed a fantastic year last year and we are looking forward to more exciting developments in 2015. With that in mind, Cecily Jackson-Zapata, Of Counsel with Sustainable Law Group, P.C. and Secretary of the Board of Directors of Social Enterprise Alliance, asked Jim Schorr, Adjunct Professor of Management at Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, incoming President and CEO of Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA), former Executive Director of Juma Ventures, and a co-founder and former board member and Chair of Net Impact, to share his thoughts on the current state of social enterprise and what he envisions for the new year. (You can find more information about Jim here.)

CJZ: In 2014 the nonprofit and hybrid/for profit U.S. social enterprise and impact investment industries continued to grow significantly. What do you think were the most important developments in these sectors last year?

JS: I think the continued growth and momentum for social enterprise is being fueled by a number of factors, including the traction that social enterprise is getting on the for-profit side of the fence, continued progress in the development of social capital markets, increasing awareness through mainstream media coverage and major awards, and the growing interest among millennials for careers that integrate making a living and making a difference.  A few highlights from 2014 that illustrate these trends include B Corps reaching a tipping point with 1000+ companies, the publication of Impact Investing by Jed Emerson, Cathy Clark and Ben Thornley, Forbes’ inclusion of social entrepreneurs among their 30 under 30 categories, and another Nobel Peace Prize award going to a social entrepreneur, Good Weave’s Kailash Satyarthi.  And I’m pretty sure Pope Francis said he loves social enterprise as well!

CJZ: Last year you were one of the keynote speakers at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Seoul and visited CELAP, Chinese Executive Leadership Academy Pudong, as well as a number of social enterprises in Shanghai. What are your biggest takeaways from your interactions with international social enterprise practitioners?

JS: From a macro perspective, and in comparison with the U.S., the single biggest takeaway is how much more foreign governments are actively supporting the development of social enterprise in their countries.  Around the world, governments are developing policy and allocating funds to support the growth of social enterprises, actively tracking the economic and social impact of the social enterprise sector, and politicians at the highest levels are including social enterprise as a part of their campaign platforms.  For whatever reason, foreign governments have more actively embraced social enterprise as a key strategy for addressing unmet social need.  In spite of the fact that we don’t see this in the U.S., social enterprise is flourishing.  Imagine what’s possible if we can get the U.S. government to do more than dabble with social enterprise.

CJZ: It appears that social enterprise will continue to see great growth in 2015. What do you foresee for the sector this year? What roles can advocacy and public policy play in advancing the sector?

JS: Twenty years ago when I was a freshly minted MBA, the idea of using business models to address social issues was the domain of the lunatic fringe. Today, some of the most credible people in the world – Bill Gates, Michael Porter at Harvard, Bill Clinton, and others – have helped make social enterprise a much more mainstream notion.  In 2015, I expect that evolution to continue, and I am indeed optimistic we can leverage Social Enterprise Alliance’s (SEA’s) 1100+ members and 15 regional chapters to help make major headway on the opportunity to further engage public sector leaders through the 2016 election and 2015-16 presidential campaigns.

CJZ: What do you plan to focus on in your social enterprise classes at Vanderbilt this year?

JS: My classes are typically a combination of great readings, impassioned lecture and discussion, guest speakers from interesting social enterprises, and projects where students develop business plans for a social enterprise idea of their own.  After 7 years of teaching, this combination of traditional and experiential learning has proven to be a winning formula for getting students smart about social enterprise and interested in how it might actually apply in their lives and careers.  One new twist this year will include doing a crowd-funding campaign as a class project.  One of Indigogo’s founders was a student in my first class at Berkeley in 2007, so I’m excited to partner with them to bring crowd-funding to life in the classroom.

CJZ: Finally, what are Social Enterprise Alliance’s plans for 2015? Is the organization developing additional programming that reflects the increasing diversity of the social enterprise and impact investing industries?

JS: This is an exciting time for SEA.  We have entered into a major new partnership with Kresge Foundation that will support the implementation of a new strategic plan to heighten SEA’s impact as a catalyst for growing the social enterprise sector in North America.  SEA’s scope will definitely continue to broaden to reflect the growing diversity of social enterprise practitioners.  Few things are of greater interest to our membership than how social enterprises can attract capital for growth, so impact investing will undoubtedly be an area of focus moving forward.

CJZ: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. We are excited to see social enterprises and B Corps gain ground in the U.S. and other nations, and we look forward to partnering with SEA, B Labs, and other organizations to educate our policymakers on how they can partner with social enterprises to fuel economic engines throughout our nation.

Sustainable Lawyer