I'm growing very tired of all the nonsense being touted as "social enterprise." While I think the concept of social enterprise has promise, this budding sector is getting overpopulated with garbage that commodifies poverty and homelessness in order to present and sell it to a disengaged, educated, young, liberal demographic that is in no way a part of curing social ailments. The poster-child for jump-the-shark social enterprise is a company called The Extraordinaries. While this so called "micro-volunteering" company has won praise from fellow social enterprise Social Earth, which provides this nauseating piece on the value of The Extraordinaries, to me The Extraordinaries is at best an ineffectual company hopefully slated for extinction.
The Extraordinaries developed an iPhone app that enables users to "volunteer" from their phones. The pitch is that we (liberal elite smartphone owners) are too busy to volunteer (because we are the liberal elite) but have five minutes here and there to mess around on our phones. So why not use those five minutes to complete a micro-volunteering opportunity from our phone?
Answer: Because micro-volunteering is stupid.
The only thing The Extraordinaries have been able to get their users to do is tag photos for online archives maintained by museums like the Smithsonian. This is all fine and good, but hardly worth much praise, or investment, and clearly not a game changer, like was claimed by the Huffington Post. What has me so in a tizzy about this company is their claim that they are a "Social Enterprise" focused on both providing social value and earning profits. Frankly, I see them achieving neither.
We have serious problems as a country and a planet. One in five children in the United States lives in poverty. What can you do about that with your mobile phone? Not a darn thing. Efforts like the Extraordinaries create an illusion of social engagement that I argue is actually a threat to people like us who work on social issues in a serious way. We do need help in the social sector. We need better talent, we need more resources. The Extraordinaries' product is not social value, rather what they peddle is the falsehood that people who do not do anything for anyone can absolve themselves of that shame by clicking buttons on their smart phones.
I am not a surgeon. There is no iPhone app that makes me feel like I am one, and that is a good thing. If someone does not volunteer, is not engaged in their community, why should we sell them a placebo application to make them believe otherwise?
(Photo by beextra.org)