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A Partial History Of The “Social Enterprise”

Published on August 28, 2019

WAY BACK WHEN… in 1945, Chicago Businessman Walter Paepcke, had a grand vision – he was going to create the new intellectual hub to serve as a moral foundation for the American business community. Walter’s bold vision would famously become an epicenter for a new post-war-wave of consciously aware business folk. And the place he chose to be at the center of it all was Aspen.

Now some seventy-odd-years later, they’re still at it! Last July, the Summit Group (in the tradition of old Aspen) held its inaugural event, titled “Outside”. This 3-day long social entrepreneurship schmoozing extravaganza, was on the top of their very own community ski hill, Powder Mountain, Utah. With a mission statement: “To build community, catalyze entrepreneurship, address global issues, and support artistic achievement, in an effort to make our world a more joyful place,” this event was certainly an exercise in “glamping for social enterprise”.

But with all this fan-fair and excitement and conferences and ski hills… What exactly is a Social Enterprise then? Is it do-gooders trying to out-do one another in the most expensive locations on the planet? No, of course not!

Social Enterprise has a long history, far older and bigger than Aspen or Powder Mountain, Utah. But the inspiring essence at the heart of all social enterprise makes it a sexy platform for camaraderie within the business world. By definition: 

“A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.” 

Recently, this model of focusing beyond sheer profit maximization has been gaining attention. In part, this is due to the inspirational work of companies like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and other household names who have been able to prove the power and sustainability of social enterprise. But succeeding with this model is no small undertaking- it requires a sophisticated, complex approach. As the social enterprise story evolves, we try to play a supporting role by providing the kind of hard-headed business knowledge that makes sure inspired and socially conscious leaders keep their bottom line, in line. In doing so, we hope to provide leaders with the space to focus on what they’re good at and to continue charging forward to make the world a better place. 


John Kay
Client Solutions in Strategy, Governance, Leadership and Finance

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