Changing the social sector’s policy pitch

The social sector has utterly failed to create a compelling pitch to the political sector about what we do

By Rich Tafel

To really succeed, the social sector needs to communicate what we do to politicians in language that aligns to their goals. One Hill staffer told me, “Every time I hear ‘social entrepreneur,’ I think ‘paid volunteer.’”

We have utterly failed to create a compelling pitch to the political sector about what we do—and those we seek to serve are suffering for it. Our pitch, as it stands, is: “We’re good people, we do good things for the poor, and we save you money—support us.” That might get us some crumbs off the table, but no politician is going to chase after us.

But there is a powerhouse policy case to make, and it has to do with creating jobs.

In his excellent new book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” Enrico Moretti points out that innovative companies set up their businesses in cities with existing innovative talent pools, and that cities with college-educated residents have stronger local economies. He writes: “The presence of many college-educated residents changes the local economy in profound ways, affecting both the kinds of jobs available and the productivity of every worker who lives there, including the less skilled. This results in high wages not just for skilled workers but for most workers.”

Social entrepreneurs who launch programs and enterprises in high unemployment, high poverty areas have two powerful effects. First, they address a deep social need, which is crucial to the social sector, but frankly, less so to the political class. Second, entrepreneurs import other innovative people who can create the new communities needed to attract business investment. 

Social entrepreneurs can transform communities in ways crucial to the long-term success of those they serve—and they are working to do just that in two American cities with high unemployment rates.

Rishi Jaitly, former Google executive and founder of Michigan Corps and Kiva Detroit, currently leads investments for the Knight Foundation in Detroit. He says, "Having worked on social innovation at an Internet company, as an entrepreneur, and now at a national foundation, I've seen firsthand the value the social entrepreneurship community brings to cities and states that embrace them. This kind of entrepreneurial talent helps the overall community become more creative, ambitious, and ready for growth."

Read more in the Stanford Social Innovation Review

 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.