What is a social mission and who gets to decide?

Today I learned that Wikimedia has been denied charitable status in the UK. Andrew Turvey explains here. I have also recently learned that the CRA Charities Dept has annulled the charitable status of Phoenix Community Foundation. They ‘annulled’ it claiming that the objects granted to Phoenix should never have been granted after being in operation for 30 years. I have also learned that several charities that are undertaking more entrepreneurial ventures have had their charitable status ‘under review’ here in Canada

This begs the question…. what is a social mission and who gets to decide — particularly when groups are evolving ideas — when they are engaging in social innovation?

The emergence of the Internet has redefined everything… it has so fundamentally shifted the world and created so many more opportunities to achieve a social mission. It has created a global commons where people on the ground are agents of change — engaging in the creation of information and educating like never before – transforming power structures. Wikimedia is one that is playing in this space — redefining ‘education’ so that it is less ‘top down’, creating opportunities for co-creation. I call this social innovation.

The emergence of social entrepreneurship has given the world the fuel and the leadership to drive towards mass experimentation and model development to make the world a better place. We finally have a term and a language that people can identify with and where they can begin to hybridize the nonprofit and for-profit sector… focusing on the longevity and independence of their social missions. But as soon as you use the word ‘entrepreneurship’ CRA starts to come down on you because you might be providing a social outcome sustainably?

Phoenix Community Foundation was a trustee for hundreds of smaller social or environmental projects — providing enabling infrastructure to test out and try their projects without having to build a charity from scratch. I am not here to defend how they did their work nor the specific argument with CRA, but it strikes me that this contradicts what we in the sector have been told to do – to share and to collaborate. To become more efficient.

These 3 stories for me capture my frustration with how unable government is to enable social innovation. Three obvious trends — engaged citizenship through the Internet, social entrepreneurship and sharing — and yet there are road blocks thrown in the way.

Who gets to decide what a social mission is? How can this be defined? How can we bring charities law into the new millennium? How can we enable social innovations instead of squashing them?

Love to hear your thoughts….

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