Monday, May 15, 2017
Today, I am spending my birthday attending and presenting at the Fifth Annual Midwest Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship in Kansas City, Missouri. I owe my presence here to my entrepreneurship colleagues and friends Tony Luppino (UMKC Law) and John Tyler (Kauffman Foundation). Thanks for the awesome birthday present, guys.
There's so much I have to say about just the first day of this event. (I also will be here and presenting tomorrow.) The proceedings so far have been incredibly thought-provoking and instructive. Most intriguing has been the focus around creating an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship. Of course, law and lawyers have roles in that. Hence, this blog post . . . .
Specifically, I want to devote today's post to the four essential action-elements necessary to generate a successful, sustained future for social entrepreneurship as posited and described by Mark Beam, Maverick in Residence at the Kauffman Foundation, in his kick-off keynote presentation this morning. (As an aside, I will note that Mark started his talk with a brief recounting of the origin of the word "maverick," which was independently fascinating.) Here are Mark's four elements, as I captured them in my notes (likely imperfectly), together with a bit of summary definitional commentary. He contended that, to build a sustainable ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, we must:
- Redefine work (recognizing entrepreneurship as work; taking into account the power and effects of technology, but knowing it needs to serve us and the human potential)
- Nurture entrepreneurial ecosystems that mimic and integrate natural systems (e.g., helping people to help themselves; moving resources from the “haves” to the “have-nots”)
- Evolve our capacity to serve more of the entrepreneurial community through ecosystem design (referring to three megatrends outlined by Kauffman Foundation CEO Wendy Guillies--demography, geography, and technology; opening up entrepreneurship to all to increase business, start-ups employment, productivity)
- Tell new stories (relating anecdotes that connect us; “we create the future through the stories we tell ourselves”—visioning the future through stories)
That may not sound like much, but trust me. The talk (beautifully delivered with amazing graphics, photography, and media content) was much better than my quick summary of the outtakes.
What Mark said made a lot of sense to me based on my related experience and work. But I found myself thinking about the role of the lawyer in these action items. How can lawyers--especially business lawyers--who support social enterprise help social entrepreneurship to productively move forward?
One of Mark's colleagues from the Kauffman Foundation, Andy Stoll, helped me to at least identify some categories of assistance--resources--that business lawyers and others can supply. Andy's list of ways in which folks can contribute, offered in his presentation as part of the luncheon panel, includes four things, too. They are knowledge, networks, cheerleading, and money. I will take on each briefly in turn, describing the category and relating it in some way to one or more of Mark's ecosystem elements.
- Knowledge. Business lawyers have a distinct knowledge base to bring to bear to help social entrepreneurs. Many areas of expertise are needed--entity formation and maintenance, corporate governance writ large, corporate finance, securities regulation more generally, employment, labor, taxation, intellectual property, etc. (In a forthcoming symposium piece in the North Carolina Law Review, I write about the corporate finance lawyer's role in entrepreneurship. I will later blog on that piece.) In redefining work, for instance, the knowledge of employment law experts may be particularly helpful.
- Networks. Social entrepreneurs need information and human capital, as well as financial capital, to be successful. Finding the right people to supply them with information and constructive action is nontrivial. Business lawyers can help introduce social entrepreneurs to other lawyers, professionals, and fellow entrepreneurs (including social entrepreneurs). The creation of networks of these types should better enable an appropriate, equitable, supportive, sustainable ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, one that is welcoming to and engaged with all.
- Cheerleading. Business lawyers can buoy their social entrepreneurial clients and promote their social entrepreneurial clients' businesses. This type of encouragement and marketing may not be native for many lawyers, but these skills can be learned and the payback can be enormous. Cheerleading can employ productive storytelling that forwards a social enterprise agenda.
- Money. Of course, lawyers can provide direct funding to their clients (subject to applicable professional responsibility strictures). But lawyers also can repackage their services and re-cast their fee schedules to create cost savings for social entrepreneurial clients. Money is, of course, a necessary (yet insufficient) component of social entrepreneurship that underlies all four of Mark's ecosystem elements.
I may have more to say on all this (and the symposium in other aspects) in a later post. But I would be interested in your reactions to Mark's and Andy's ideas about building a social entrepreneurship ecosystem and providing essential support for social entrepreneurs--and my connection of the two. I am always looking for ideas about how lawyers can be leaders in promoting productive, sustainable business ventures. Today made me think . . . .