Some thoughts triggered by the NPI Social Enterprise Forum in Shanghaï

During the consortium meeting in Shanghaï thoughts were exchanged by the SEFORÏS team on how the scene of social entrepreneurship differs between Europe and China and how the NPI Social Enterprise Forum in Shanghaï created a place for different (opposite) opinions. Marieke Huysentruyt rephrased some of these thoughts.

I was struck by the very different tone and language that the Chinese use when discussing the role and development of social entrepreneurship in China. Various Chinese speakers underscored the virtue of and need for patience: let the social enterprise phenomenon in China take root and grow organically; don't rush, but give it time; etc. This starkly contrasts with the loud calls for action and change now (or better yet, yesterday) that we commonly hear in EU circles and echoed across EU Member States. Relatedly, the Chinese tone is also far less aggressive, less combative if you will, than the one Europe uses to describe societal goals and targets. Whereas Europe is fighting poverty, China is alleviating poverty. In Europe, there is the continual struggle – for one say to keep solidarity high; the Chinese are far less in combative in their rhetoric. To be sure, all this doesn't mean the Chinese are less ambitious. Not at all. The reach, scale and speed of growth of Chinese social enterprises, like Be Better, is mind-boggling, something we Europeans really 'struggle' to grasp – can only dream of!

I was also struck by the very wide range of viewpoints that the Forum brought forward. The opposite extremes were there – some placing all the bets on businesses to pick up and resolve societal challenges, others on the pure charities. And all the shades of grey that lie in between these two extremes were equally heard. This openness, letting very diverse players articulate and promulgate a role and vision, is I dare say less common in Europe – where we seem more preoccupied with building up walls, segregating views and schools of thought.