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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

The Social Economy – Working Together Towards The Common Good

Tuesday, 3rd March 2015

There is a noticeable shift from purely profit-driven capitalism towards integrated social citizenship, which is happening in Australia and around the world, writes Karen Mahlab in her latest blog.

I recently watched the TEDster talk superstar Simon Sinek talking about leadership. His line is people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. He says that trust and loyalty come from the identification with the Why – and the feeling associated with it comes from deep down in the ancient part of our brain called the limbic system.

I agree with him.

I founded Pro Bono Australia a decade ago and I was asked to write this blog because in the About Us section of our site I had written that we intended to shift the system from purely profit-driven capitalism towards integrated social citizenship. I wrote this maybe a decade ago. Lofty ideas but in fact it’s happening! Not only in Australia but around the world.

Pro Bono Australia receives calls each week from people wanting to exit the corporate sector and looking for meaningful work. Our journalists write news regularly about people wanting to give away large sums of their fortunes to charity. We see skilled professionals wanting to volunteer their skills to causes – and we see the companies employing them wanting, even supporting them to do it. We see young people starting up their own social enterprises to change the way they want the world to be and we hear of significant investors wanting to invest their funds and do good at the same time.

It’s all part of what I call the the social economy – and it’s growing exponentially.

The social economy is the people and organisations who are engaged in civil society. It covers Not for Profits, social enterprises (organisations whose mission is to generate social AND financial returns), companies practicing some form of corporate social responsibility, volunteers, philanthropists and the new area of impact investing, which involves investing for social good as well as financial returns as the double bottom lines.

Why has it been growing so significantly? Firstly, technology has enabled people power. There’s crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, crowd organising and informing. Secondly, in first world countries there is a growing awareness that money does not equate to happiness or contentment. Thirdly, there’s an awareness that our resources are finite but often just very badly used. And fourth, there’s an understanding that things CAN be done differently, that things CAN change and that the old institutions aren’t necessarily the ones to do it.

We are looking more and more at the Why. Why are we doing the things we are doing the way we are doing them? Have they made a difference? How do I make a difference? Why am I doing what I’m doing? And the more closely we look at, for example, intransigent social issues in Australia, the more we can say things haven’t been changing and the more people want to engage to change that.

Change is happening. Despite a general lack of political leadership, the Not for Profit sector in particular is making strides in trying out new ways to tackle social issues. Increasingly, dollars spent on addressing social and community issues are being tracked carefully in order to measure the impact they are having in order to do it better and more efficiently, and Not for profits addressing similar issues are looking to merge and collaborate so that they can address issues together. It’s called Collective Impact and it’s demanding conscious leaders who aren’t driven by ego and can work together. And then there’s a whole raft of Millennials setting up their own new organisations tackling issues in new ways with fresh energy.

Corporate Australia too has been revising the way they intersect with community asking themselves about their “social license” to operate. Leaders in this space, such as Westpac, NAB, PWC, Telstra or Bendigo Bank, all have initiatives in place, and the launch of BCorps in Australia last year has been the start of something even bigger.

In 2014 Pro Bono Australia joined the growing ranks of for-profit companies who are becoming a BCorp.

Our tagline is Media, Jobs & Resources for the Common Good. And we are now the gateway for over 800,000 people yearly finding out about, working in and being informed about civil society organisations.

We work shoulder to shoulder with organisations who are both Not for Profit and For profit. Our goal is for a world where this distinction won’t need to be made – where we all work towards the Common Good.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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