Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

May/June • Vol 6, No. 3 •

Letter to the Editor

Dear Socialist Viewpoint,

I spent Sunday, March 5th at the “Social Enterprise 2006” conference held at the Harvard business school

Hundreds of (mostly) privileged white academics and business people converged at the Harvard Business Schools’ elite and beautiful campus to discuss corporate social responsibility and the role of businesses and corporations in the amelioration of inequality and other social ills.

I came into this day and this experience with a skeptical but open mind, filled with revolutionary angst. I was surprised by what I “learned.” Before March 5th, I believed that corporations were heartless organizations incapable of compassion because of their devotion to the bottom line. I believed that corporations were incapable of doing good because profits and insatiable greed could never be reconciled with the needs of the people.

For the most part I still believe that, however the conference did show me the power of human agency in shaping the outcomes of the actions of corporations, and renewed my faith in humanity that was evident in the genuine compassion exuded by the panelists. The stories and anecdotes that I heard from panelists and keynote speakers alike showed me the world of good that could be done by people driven by such compassion and a genuine concern for the overall human condition. It was truly inspiring.

The danger I feel is that by focusing attention on such good deeds by individuals, peoples, and businesses; attention is diverted from the root causes and questions behind the myriad social injustices that these well-intentioned, though misguided individuals are trying to rectify and reverse through the medium of so-called, “social enterprise” that they leave complacent and reconciled to the status quo. Furthermore, this takes accountability off of governments whose role it should be to meet the needs of the people. Social entrepreneurship can be seen either as a short-term remedy of social problems or an ominous manifestation of the deepening associations between capitalist enterprise and government.

Not once did I hear anyone ask why throughout history such efforts have been made by well-intentioned individuals or charitable institutions, but without any substantial reduction in human misery?

I believe the most tangible impact left on those in attendance at this conference, was to reinforce their preconceptions of the efficacy and infallibility of capitalism as a global economic system and confident that capital in one way shape or form was the key to healing the worlds’ pain. And that with enough dedicated and honest individuals running corporations, the master’s tools would eventually dismantle the master’s house, leaving the slaves free to choose their own destiny and shape a new world in which they might reclaim their dignity.

This “guardian of truth and justice” believes that true liberation must come from within, born in the hearts and minds of those who bear the burden and hidden costs of “civilization” and “progress” and also that the work of “social enterprise” is a noble and worthy cause; however it is a Syphusian one at best.

Asi-Yahola Somburu, Boston

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