Opinion: Enterprise role for ebay man

Last week, there was an extraordinary gathering at the Said Business School in Oxford, when the school hosted the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

For three days, the forum debated the contribution that social entrepreneurship could make to society, whether it could be easily defined and how it differed from traditional approaches to achieving change.

There was a strong sense that social entrepreneurship was an old idea whose time had come, and that, as an operating technique, rather than in its organisational form, social enterprise could play a major part in today's society.

But there was also recognition that it faced the danger of being crowded out by the political clout of the public sector and the economic power of the private sector. Social enterprise has many fans, but very little public profile. In the increasingly competitive scramble for public service delivery, social enterprise often fails to get a look-in. And, as a result, many social enterprises struggle to find the finance they need to reach their potential.

Which is why an idea put forward by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the world-famous Grameen Bank, has such merit. He argues that there needs to be an alternative stock market, one that measures social impact rather than profit. What better way, he says, to encourage investors who want to make a difference to society to put their money where their motivations are?

While modified stock market indexes already exist - Nasdaq launched a social index in 2002 - they tend to be traditional market-value indexes weighted to take into account social or environmental performance. The kind of market proposed by Yunus would redefine success as social impact before profit, rather than 'profit plus'.

At the World Forum last week, Yunus even proposed a pioneer for his new idea - Jeff Skoll, ebay founder-turned-philanthropist, whose foundation has provided the finance for a Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Said Business School. What better way to ensure that centre and founder make a lasting contribution to society? Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust, but writes in a personal capacity

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