Sunday, May 11, 2014

Connecticut passes America's most comprehensive Social Enterprise Legislation!

At 7 minutes to midnight on the last day of the Connecticut's legislative session, a law passed giving you the right to run business whose primary aim is to solve a social or environmental problem.   And just as the passing of civil rights did not an equal society make, this law in and of itself will not transform our business landscape, but it's an important milestone in the movement toward embracing a different way of doing business.

It took a village to get here. We started with the desire to make CT a hub of social enterprise and realized that to get there we need this legislation. It's important for three reasons:  It enables impact investors  to find and screen companies they want to invest in - businesses that can provide both social and financial returns.  In addition, social entrepreneurs can now take on investors without fear of being sued for considering social impact at the expense of maximizing financial returns to those shareholders.   And lastly, the bill also legitimizes the concept of social enterprise.  While it's possible to establish a social enterprise without legislation (I did), it's expensive, time consuming, and seems fringy.  We've been acculturated to think that the only legitimate purpose of a business is to make money.  And while this isn't really so, and has not always been the case, today that idea is so pervasive as to be unquestioned.  But for a social enterpreneur profitability is a means to an end, rather than the end itself.  It's the idea of eating to live rather than living to eat.    Now we have a law that acknowledges that saving the planet (or some small corner of it) is a legitimate raison d'etre for business.  The law makes the concept more mainstream - Main Street.

Four years isn't such a long time to get legislation passed when you learn that it took more than 50 years for women to get the vote.  It takes time.  Ghandi described the phases of a movement: first they ignore you, then they laugh, then they fight, then you win. In that first year we didn't have a clue, and figured as soon as we explained the idea behind social enterprise everyone would leap on board and we'd be done. We raised little interest or attention - we were largely ignored.  Later, when we were given audience it was sometimes offered witha generous serving of condescention; they thought the idea was naive, patted us on our well-meaning heads and sent us on our way.  They laughed.  But we didn't go away.  That's when we met concerns that maybe social enterprise was code for something more sinister.  You'll note the similarity between social enterprise, socialist, and socialism! The fight was on.  We still didn't give up.  We became more educated and better organized; we got strategic, we enslisted support and we moved the ball forward.  We educated anyone who would listen, won over some opponents who fought us because they misunderstood what we were about, and explained that there's nothing more free market than being open to other goals. The third year proved to be the charm.  We had familiarity, momentum, and lots of support on our side.  We pressed hard and we brought it home. We, and by extension, all of us, won.

And in doing so Connecticut can boast having the most comprehensive social enterprise legislation in the country.  Because only in Connecticut can you, if all of your shareholders agree, lock in your status as a social enteprise, protecting in perpetuity its status as a social enterprise.  For a business owner that wants to leave a legacy in a company that will always have at it's core the purpose of making our world a better place, Connecticut has it!  

We did it!  In terms of our overall goal of making Connecticut a hub of social enteprise this is of course only the begining.  This law is an important, foundational cornerstone in the social enteprise movement and our goal to create a vibrant social enterprise community here in our state.  With this law in place, Connecitcut can encourage and demonstrate the transformative power of the free market when it is harnessed to impact.  With this law Connecticut is open for social enterprise business.

It was a high five moment, one to celebrate.   

The legislation passed!  I wish it sounded more grand.  A marathon is run.  A mountain scaled.  A victory  won.  And our bill passed - sounds more like gas or a gallstone.  There should be a more triumphal word.  But whatever - it is a relief!

The bill passed.  The movement goes on :>)