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Not a day goes by when I don’t sign into my email or search the web and find the phrase “social enterprise.”  It’s increasingly common where there’s “social change.”  More and more social justice groups are adopting it.  So what is it exactly that makes folks grab hold of it not unlike the sustainability frenzy?

Social enterprise offers a way to get to the heart of human values without having to take a single philosophy course.  And an unfortunate consequence, like sustainability, is for existing corporations to use this buzz phrase to manipulate consumer desires for a better world in order to continue business as usual.  However, I’m not going to get into the latter.  I’m more interested in its possibilities, especially for animal liberation.

J. Gregory Dees, founder of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, defines social entrepreneurs as social change agents who, like business entrepreneurs, creatively “reform or revolutionize the pattern of production.” What distinguishes social entrepreneurs from just any old venturer trying to get ahead are:

  1. Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value);
  2. Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission;
  3. Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning;
  4. Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand; and
  5. Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

Creating and sustaining social value is what attracts me.  Because any efforts to advance animals’ rights are to shift human values of animals from commodity to respected fellow being.  The environmental movement has been doing a stellar job all around in creating and sustaining social value.  For instance, here in Asheville, NC, the environmental consciousness is so grounded that it permeates the whole culture.  Solar panel and composting companies that hire trained low-income workers (many of whom face severe barriers to employment) from the green collar movement.  A food policy council that influences city council decision-making and city planning in edible landscaping and urban agriculture.  Public charter schools that teach human ecology and values of sustainability.  A worker-owned biofuel cooperative.  A green job training center.  An internationally-known ecovillage that serves as a hub for sustainable community-building.  Public murals that celebrate the plant and human life of an Appalachian city.  And the list goes on.

This culture doesn’t just spring from vapor.  It’s strong because social entrepreneurs create values of sustainability, and the communities they serve sustain them.  Communities sustain them because they are accessible.  Because they move individuals to action.  Because they need them.

No matter how much we as animal activists hate to admit it, when we call ourselves creating social change for animals, it’s not so much about doing it for the animals as it is doing it for ourselves and other humans.  When animal activists urge non-vegans to adopt a vegan lifestyle, animals are the primary reason why, but what moves someone to become vegan is self-satisfaction.  “I am vegan because it makes me feel good to know I am not harming animals [or think I’m harming animals].”  We’re moved to action from inside, from core feeling, from selfishness.  Selfishness is a harsh word and is often used to denote poor character, but in this instance, it’s just what it is.  We’re moved to action and thus shift values when something touches us deeply and reminds us of who we are, what we need, and what makes us feel good.

So as more vegan activists and animal advocates create social enterprises for animals, we can keep this in mind: We can create and sustain cultures that appreciate animal difference, value animal agency and communities, and promote animals’ rights when humans begin to realize that it is naturally who we are to do this, that it is what we need for a whole and healthy life, that is what makes us feel good.

As I find more examples of social enterprises for animals on the web, I’ll post them here. Stay tuned!