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Social Economy in Higher Education
SEA’s leadership transition is timely, coming as it does right after the development and funding of the SEA V2.0 Strategy. Following is a glimpse of what you can expect from SEA as we role this strategy out over the next three years.
Since our founding in 2000, SEA’s purpose has been to serve social enterprises and drive their success by spreading knowledge, and driving networks and communities of social enterprise. Our model has been largely that of a traditional, introspective membership organization, focused on serving individual members by offering packages of specific benefits at various levels, and producing a popular national conference each year.
We’ve enjoyed some success with this model, with membership recently reaching 1,100 and our chapter network now at 17 chapters and still spreading. Indeed, we’ve followed what has been the prevailing model for membership associations for a long time.
It is a model that was designed for the self-perpetuation of the association, but it does not necessarily reflect how people and sectors are organizing today, particularly in the social change space. In fact it’s a dying model.
Meanwhile, the social enterprise field has exploded since 2000. By one estimate, there are as many as 650,000 social enterprises in the U.S. Even if this estimate is inflated by as much as a factor of ten, 65,000 social enterprises still suggest a vast movement is taking foot to use the power of markets to drive social benefit.
Over the last year, SEA and its Board have engaged in a strategic discernment process to re-envision how we can seize the opportunity for social enterprise to create massive, disruptive change. The result is a strategy for reinventing SEA that we are calling “SEA Version 2.0” (“V2.0” for short).
The fundamental premise of V2.0 is that it is time for SEA to turn its attention away from the fading, inward view of a traditional membership organization, towards the bright, external, activist view of a movement builder. Our attention should be on vitalizing a robust social enterprise ecosystem in which social enterprises can flourish in number, size and impact.
There are six key elements to the V2.0 strategy:
A. Focus on the Building Blocks
Our theory of change posits that to advance the social enterprise ecosystem, six essential Building Blocks must be set in place, then mortared by the communities and networks we create through SEA. These Building Blocks will serve as the organizing principle for virtually all of our content development, research, and partnerships in V2.0. The Building Blocks include:
B. Amass the masses by lowering the barrier to entry
The fading membership organization model relies on a quid pro quo exchange of a member’s money for a menu of specific benefits we provide. The emerging models for organizing people and movements flip this approach on its head. Instead of “dollars for benefits”, the exchange is one of “attention for engagement”. V2.0 will be driven by the idea of reducing the cost of initial participation in SEA to zero in order to quickly build the critical size of the network so that the network itself becomes monetizable.
C. Build alliances
“Alliance” is 33% of our name, but heretofore we have never made it a central focus of our work. This will change with V2.0. In each of the six Building Block areas, amazing organizations and individuals are already doing great work. We will seek out best-of-class players in each of these areas and establish relationships that create two-way access with our network in order to drive rapid uptake of their projects. We will build these alliances with an eye towards value creation for our network as well as potential financial upside for SEA.
D. Power with technology and infrastructure
Our current technology backbone is a rudimentary in-house membership database, sufficient for the current 1,000-member quid pro quo model but not to power a movement-builder with membership numbering to six digits.
V2.0 will need to be powered by a sophisticated CRM/AMS (Customer Relationship Management / Association Management System) capable of delivering many different forms of value and connectivity among different constituencies and communities. We envision this as a central space where our members and partners can engage meaningfully across distances through such features as self-organized online working groups, collaborative content creation, and community-curated knowledge. We also believe it can provide the groundwork for a public-facing social enterprise marketplace, one that aims to connect the buying public with the myriad goods and services that social enterprises offer.
E. Curate, curate, curate
Building networks, relationships and partnerships requires that we increase our own intellectual capital and capacity to that of a true thought leader. In V2.0 we will be curating and creating content, managing an expanded knowledge center, managing multiple online sub-communities, populating an online directory and marketplace of social enterprises, and managing field research and policy papers.
F. Create sustainability and growth engines
In many ways, SEA V2.0 resembles the launch of a whole new social enterprise. We're creating new products, under a new business model, and reaching into new markets. Success will largely depend on two factors: How rapidly we can develop offerings with provable value to our audiences, and how quickly we can make them cash-positive endeavors that pay their own way. We expect that each new program and service we develop will undergo numerous iterations before reaching sustainability, which is why we favor a quick-to-market, quick-to-learn approach.
Collectively, these outcomes will reinvent Social Enterprise Alliance as a movement builder that drives the success of the social enterprise field in the United States.
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