If entrepreneurship is a social good for communities, must anything that helps entrepreneurship also be a social good? Maybe not.
It’s true that entrepreneurship is a generally a positive force. It often falls to startups to create gales of “creative destruction,” as economist Joseph Schumpeter called the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within.” Startups fill unmet consumer needs and are engines of job creation. To be sure, it might not be so clear cut – those statements are often backed by cherry-picked data. Still, I haven’t heard the argument that entrepreneurship is bad for the economy or society, even if there’s a little too much attention on things like messaging apps.
So businesses that grease the wheels for entrepreneurship must also be producing a social good, right? And that means we should call coworking offices “social enterprises” for their role in the startup community. Not so fast.
A social enterprise is commonly defined, with some semantic variation, as an organization that applies commercial strategies to improve social and environmental well-being. And social well-being includes creating well-paying jobs as well as filling unmet consumer needs – which is exactly what many startups that fill coworking offices strive to accomplish.
But many coworking offices in the US, Europe and Asia cater more to major corporations. Coworking provides real-estate flexibility and lower costs to those corporations, and maybe stimulates more creativity and collaboration. But I don’t see those coworking offices as social enterprises working to improve social and environmental well-being.
To be sure, I’m not talking about coworking spaces that cater specifically to non-profits and other social enterprises. There are a lot of them and I have no reservation in calling them “social enterprises.”
On the other hand, there are coworking offices, incubators and accelerators that are in places that could sorely use a boost in growth-oriented entrepreneurs. So coworking offices in places like Ethiopia or Zimbabwe, for example, have the potential to produce more a lot more social and environmental outcomes through their tenants. So, to my mind, whether coworking is a social enterprise comes down to the classic real estate aphorism: location, location, location.
What do you think?
I've been coworking since 2010. which has taught me a few things about making it work. I have a lot left to learn.