Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Social Entrepreneur for President?

I came upon an article in the blogs from a relatively young Filipina writer who likens an ideal Philippine president to a social entrepreneur. I'd rather let her article do the talking instead:


Wanted: A president who can run the Philippines like a social enterprise
By Niña Terol
Author’s note: This is an abridged version of a blog post originally written for the Young Public Servants website. To view the full article, click on

I recently posed this challenge to some like-minded colleagues: draft a want ad for this country’s next president, then let’s see how we are able to articulate the skills, qualifications, and necessary track record of the Philippines’s Chief Executive. After all, we cannot even begin to seriously assess our current crop of presidential hopefuls if we don’t know what we are looking for in the first place. I honestly thought that it would be quite easy because the exercise had to be somewhat similar to writing an ad for a CEO of a large corporation. How hard could that be, right? (The power of Google, and cut and paste…)

Well, I apparently underestimated the task. While doing some online research on the subject it occurred to me that maybe my entire premise was wrong in the first place. The Philippines is not a large corporation. It is not large geographically, politically, economically, or even diplomatically the way the First World countries, or even China or India, are. It is not even a dark horse the way Russia is often viewed. In the local setting, the Philippines is not like one of those multinationals that are housed in one of the ritzier office spaces along Ayala Avenue. It might not even be located in any of the central business districts. If the Philippines were an enterprise, it could probably be considered a startup, or a relatively young SME at the most.

Therefore, the kind of president that we need is not somebody who will saunter into the office in an extremely expensive suit — with an army of executive assistants, senior vice presidents, and consultants in tow — and be a “boardroom executive.” We need someone who has the mindset of an entrepreneur and who will be able to dig through the mud (literally, sometimes) to get things done.

But because I’m a fan of social enterprises and social enterprises, I’d take it up a notch and venture to say that the Philippines could be likened to a social enterprise, and therefore needs a president who has the mindset of a social entrepreneur.

What’s in a social entrepreneur?
According to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurs are “unusually courageous men and women that pursue their vision of a better world by applying extraordinary creativity and resourcefulness to some of the world’s most challenging issues. They are not just dreamers… They have the rare ability to ground their dreams in reality and translate them into pragmatic, goal-oriented and measurable action. As a result, they have produced some of the most innovative approaches to social, economic and political problems that continue to defy conventional means of action [boldface mine].”

On the other hand, Stacey Childress (2006) of the Harvard Business School, talks of the need for a “Theory of Change” — a belief about how actions will contribute to the fulfillment of a larger vision. This “theory” could be focused on either local or systemic change, but it has to define how the social enterprise’s activities will contribute to the big picture.

Social entrepreneurs, therefore, are visionaries — wild, passionate, big-picture thinkers — first and foremost. They are unafraid of dreaming of WHAT COULD BE; to them, “impossible” means “I’ll Make it POSSIBLE.” Who in our current crop of presidentiable-wannabes thinks that way?

Moreover, social entrepreneurs are able to link current gaps with current givens and future possibilities in ways that are extremely innovative, creative, “out of the universe” and yet very, very logical. They are unafraid of asking the important question — “Why not?” — and going, “What next?” For instance, one of my favorite social enterprises, Rags 2 Riches, linked the existing realities of dismal economic conditions in Payatas and the nanays’ current means of livelihood — rag-making — to the big dream of making “designer rags.” Throw renowned fashion designer Rajo Laurel into the mix, and you’ve got a kick-ass concept (which just recently won an international business plan competition) and beautiful bags that even Angelina Jolie will buy because (1) they’re great products and (2) they support fair trade.

Imagine this: If we could reinvent the Philippines using the social enterprise model, what would it look like? More importantly, are any of our politicians willing to take the risk of painstaking — but powerful — transformation? Or are they simply promising the same old Spartan slippers and simply rebranding them as Havaianas?

Social entrepreneurs also know what their goals look like and, therefore, how to know when they’ve already achieved them. Social enterprises are not just lofty causes filled with empty promises. At the heart of it all, social enterprises are income-generating operations for which metrics, indicators, and impact are very important. At the end of the day, we will know where we stand and what else we need to do to fill in the gaps.

Think about it: if we had a president who at the very least was as entrepreneurial, as passionate, as savvy, as creative, and as progressive as some of our country’s top (social) entrepreneurs, wouldn’t you feel a tad more hopeful about our future and more willing to help make things work?

Niña Terol, 28, is a writer, editor, communications consultant, and emerging social entrepreneur. She is also the Vice Chairperson for Internal Affairs of Team RP, a youth-led movement for truth, accountability, and reform in Philippine governance.

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