Society is currently facing pressing challenges such as climate change, struggling economies and immigration. Such global issues are exacerbated by high levels of unemployment, disease, poverty and conflict in certain countries. Many agree that change needs to take place, but perhaps the answer is to take action further than this and aim for transformation. Though what does transformation actually mean and how can it successfully be achieved?
The word transformation itself represents a marked change in form, nature or appearance. Whereas change occurs naturally and steadily over time, transformation entails a fundamental shift. When considering creating such shifts within society, this is where social transformation comes in. In their book, Getting Beyond Better, Roger Martin and Sally Osberg assert that social transformation requires some form of challenge to an existing equilibrium - the disruption of the current stable system. Peter Drucker suggested that no century in recorded history has experienced so many social transformations and such radical ones as the twentieth century, with important societal shifts unlike any seen before. But what is the situation now in the twenty first century? It has been said that social transformations tend to occur in response to key economic and political changes. In the past, the industrial revolution and the growth of free trade led to a significant social transformation. More recently globalisation could be said to have created another shift. Furthermore, the past year has seen increased movement away from a globalised world in the votes for Brexit and Trump in the UK and US. However, are the changes we see in society the result of the destruction of a stable equilibrium or just movements from one political stance to the other – alternating between market and social priorities?
Viewing the economy as separate from social matters can lead to the important role of the economy in society being ignored and vice versa. Following the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 governments became more economically focussed, which in many places resulted in austerity measures and public spending cuts and an increase in social problems. Charities, social service providers and not-for-profits work hard to mitigate such issues, though lack the funds and resources to challenge the system that is creating these problems. Martin and Osberg assert that societies often accept the inevitability of social issues like inequality, poverty, hunger and climate change and implement strategies to ameliorate the negative effects. However, they do admit that there are times when revolutionary thinking defeats normal thought processes and the status quo is left behind, with a new transformed equilibrium being formed. The graph below represents the leap required to create an equilibrium change.
Through combining social and economic objectives, social entrepreneurship offers a promising model for socio-economic growth and is described as driving systems change through innovation. Rather than wait for governments and institutions to decide upon the optimum solutions to problems in society, social entrepreneurs are employing their knowledge and experience to adopt new ways to create transformation. However, the global phenomenon of social entrepreneurship has not created the socio-economic progress expected of it, as focus on solving complex problems can lead to thorough strategies for sustainability and scalability being overlooked. In addition, though social entrepreneurship stems from good intentions, without detailed understanding of the context, attempts to transform a society can result in significant failures. Max Marmer suggests that a potential solution to overcome the shortcomings of social entrepreneurship and create transformation is the combination of the scalability proficiency of technology entrepreneurship with the ethical goals of social entrepreneurship. He calls this transformational entrepreneurship. Nonetheless, how can such a method be successfully implemented across a global context?
It has been said that the most transformational innovations are those which incorporate many aspects of a structure. A systemic approach to innovation requires altering ingrained concepts and mind-sets, as transformation can only be achieved when the individuals within the system think and do things differently. This approach undoubtedly takes time and in depth understanding of the actors within a context, though seems to offer a promising route for transformation.
Nonetheless, though the involvement of society appears to be a favourable direction to take on the road to transformation, recent global political events have demonstrated that societies are becoming increasingly divided. For example, both Brexit and the presidential election in the USA have been commonly described as dividing the inhabitants of two of the world’s largest economies. Moreover, global politics in 2016 saw a rise in the prevalence of a new form of nationalism, moving away from unifying patriotism towards a lack of trust for minority groups. With such a fundamental lack of cohesion and growing caution of marginalised groups within a particular context what does this mean for the promotion of systemic processes, and in turn social transformation in communities with growing needs?
It seems that social factors must be considered alongside objectives to form sustainable growing economies, if social transformation is to be achieved. Though the word social alone does not inherently entail that the course of action taken is the right one. If a social initiative fails to understand its context and culture, work alongside the inhabitants of that particular context and appeal to hearts and minds, it will fail to transform.
I am currently conducting research for my PhD into social transformation and the role social entrepreneurship plays in the process. I will gather data in three different countries in three different economies, to assess different approaches to social entrepreneurship, the transformations created, and the impact of context in the development.
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