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Are social entrepreneurship and scientific research incompatible? (1/2)
Science et impact social
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Are social entrepreneurship and scientific research incompatible? (1/2)

How many social enterprises are born in laboratories? How many social enterprises are technology leaders? And why is it crucial to ask these questions nowadays?

The digital battle is already over

The tech world is going through a massive hangover. The technological leaders of the sharing economy in the digital sector have shown their dark side: attention economy, capture of personal data at the expanse of users, hindrance to democratic life, distorsion of competition… Those who believed in technology to create inclusive and open societies are starting to question everything. Are those digital platforms bound to create capital accumulation and raising inequalities?

Interestingly enough, pioneers in such models actually emerged in the sector of social entrepreneurship. However, CouchSurfing did not have the massive success that AirBnB achieved.

How the sector of social entrepreneurship, that propose alternative models based on shared ownership and redistribution of the value created, can win this battle?

Who could dethrone Google or Meta today?

If some actors from the solidarity-based economy nourish such dreams, allow us to strongly doubt about it. We believe that the digital battle is lost.

However, the technological war is not.

If the digital battle has already taken place, those of robotics, nanotechnologies and synthetic biology are raging right now. These battles are happening in laboratories. Unfortunately they remain invisible to the social entrepreneurship sector!

In France, while the solidarity economy sector represents 14% of the jobs, its organizations are mainly in the sectors of social employment, education, arts & entertainment, sports and leisure and finance/insurance [1]. Industry and other technology-intensive sectors, based on advanced research, are not invested by social entrepreneurship players. In the social entrepreneurship or impact world, tech is still confined to digital technology. Scientific research is a blind spot.

Why are we concerned about it?

Science is a great tool to create social impact

It is the very essence of social entrepreneurship to change the rules of the game, to bring out more sustainable and inclusive models, at the service of society.

Given the challenges posed by climate change and raising social inequalities, it is imperative that the places where the future is created, i.e. research laboratories, are more infused with the ways of social entrepreneurs.

Technologies, resulting from scientific advances, are indeed everywhere: they flood our daily life, they shape our behaviours and our organizations. Who sets up the models around the development of these technologies? For whose benefit? According to which values? For what objectives? Let’s make no mistake: technological developments are not the result of a linear and autonomous dynamic of progress, they are the results of political choices.

If the time has come to rebuild our models of society and our economy according to new values in order to face societal challenges, as the actors of social entrepreneurship are striving to do, then scientific research and technological developments are a lever that must be seized upon.

As Leka’s founder Lasdislas de Toldi says: "We are not doing robotics because we like the science, we are doing robotics because we have seen its potential to help the children who need it most" [2]

If social entrepreneurship does not position itself on these topics today, then the sector will once again be helpless when new leaders will take monopoly 30 years from now. If social enterprises, associations and NGOs do not partner with laboratories, the same way companies and industrials are, we can expect the same patterns to be repeated!

Again, let us be clear here: we are not talking about raising awareness, opposing some technological developments or educating scientists on specific social justice topics. We are talking about actually launching research partnerships to valorize research results. We are talking about the co-creation of tomorrow’s technologies, in order to create the future “Google” of synthetic biology, but as a social entrepreneur.

Is this wishful thinking? Not necessarily. Certainly, the models of cross-fertilization between this economy with a human face and science have yet to be invented, but experiments already exist.

We’ve witnessed such hybrids and experiments, sometimes SoScience being at their emergence, and sometimes not. Social entreprises that actually collaborate with research partners such as Leka, Alg&You, Nutriset, Sublime Energie and more, are becoming more and more common. We are sharing on our platform, week after week, the highs and lows of such experiments. Be it in nutrition, robotics, energy, agriculture, electronics : every field has its examples.

Promoting science-social impact hybridizations

It is these partnerships between economic actors who wish to remain faithful to the values of social entrepreneurship and the world of advanced research that we need. The question of tomorrow’s proteins for a sustainable food supply or robotics for social inclusion are only examples of the many scientific questions that we need to explore.

It is now urgent to promote and encourage this type of hybridization through targeted public policy and investment. Such experiments might also save the competitiveness of our more classic industrial economy. Indeed, in a world where planetary limits have been exceeded, the only viable industrial activities tomorrow will not be those that try to reduce their negative impact on their environment, but those that develop solutions to resolve or mitigate environmental and social constraints.

Does the management of research and innovation in France and Europe serve these hybridizations? We explore this topic in the second article of this series Social Entrepreneurship & Scientific Research.

[1] according to a study conducted by ESS France (The French Chamber of Social and Solidarity Economy) and the National Observatory of the SSE.

[2] Interview here

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