What’s in a Name?

Posted by on January 4, 2013 in charity, CSR, Non-Profit

UnSectored_wordle1-300x122Proper language use is a particularly important issue to me, especially language used in the social sector. I feel like there are too many terms thrown around with multiple meanings, which leads to misunderstandings between people working toward the same goal. Case in point: I run a site that facilitates conversations around social change, and at our last event on social enterprise, we couldn’t even come up with a single definition for the term.

It is even more difficult to find a word that encapsulates the full spectrum of topics of what we discuss here on Social Earth. When I’m out speaking about my work with UnSectored, it often gets labeled as a blog about social entrepreneurship. This is accurate, but doesn’t get at the full scope of what we are trying to do. UnSectored is a community platform for changemakers. We aren’t about one thing, but the plethora of activities, ideas and models that make up today’s changing perspectives on social change and making the world a better place.

At times, like in the first paragraph of this post, I’ve called the space this movement occupies the “social sector.” That’s a weak term, as the work isn’t limited to one sector, but permeates throughout many different sectors. I’ve called it social change, as I did in the preceding paragraph, but that term is limiting not only in its connotations (its historically been used by activists in the nonprofit sector), but more so because, by definition, overarching change will be social (what else would be changing?) and the term doesn’t inherently imply that things are changing for the better. Lately, I’ve been using “sustainable capitalism” to describe what we are all working for. This has its issues as well, not only because of the connotations (typically been used in the corporate social responsibility movement), but because what we want to accomplish is not a modification of capitalism, but a full restructuring.

So what’s in a name? Do we need to define these different parts of the spectrum of change? Is the shared feeling we get when we talk about the new ways to improve our communities enough understanding to go on? For now, probably yes. But not for much longer. As social enterprises become the norm and cross-sector collaboration is established as the default, we will need to develop strict terminology for these different types of activities, models, and ideas, just as other industries have clearly defined components.

Here’s what I hope: This work will simply become “work.” There will be no distinction from social-changey work and “regular” work because “regular” work will become social-changey work. People from all backgrounds and sectors are beginning to realize that working to improve communities, not just selling products and services, is a better business model. That’s why I’m not so concerned with hashing down definitions for social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, cross-sector collaboration, social change.

I’m hopeful that in a few years, we won’t be using them anymore.

Note: A version of this post appeared first on UnSectored. 

Jeff Raderstrong

Jeff Raderstrong is a community engagement consultant who helps organizations engage with audiences to collectively define goals. He is also the Founder and Editor of UnSectored and the Co-Founder of the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG). He enjoys biking, vinyl records, and critical thinking.

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