Is Social Entrepreneurship a Double-Edged Sword?

The germ for this post comes from a tweet by @montero a few days ago describing social entrepreneurship as a double-edge sword; one edge entrepreneurship and the other the “social” element.

I admit the idea made me chuckle at first—the most common use of the idiom being to refer to something risky, unsafe, something that “cuts both ways.” And I suppose social entrepreneurship has the potential to be just that. But, I thought, there must have been a reason someone centuries ago decided to sharpen both edges of his sword.

It seems to me that at least two conditions must be met before a double-edged sword would be a relative advantage.

1. The blade has to match the style, skill and training of the person using it.

Double-edged blades are used differently then single-edged ones. They require a different stance, different attacks and different defense maneuvers. This can be a distinct advantage, especially if one’s opponent (say, poverty, ignorance, or social injustice) is only accustomed to attacks from single-edged weapons (maybe government programs or pure market enterprises.)

But in the wrong hands, especially hands that tried to use it as it if it was something else (a single-edged blade perhaps), a two-edged sword could be much more dangerous for the one wielding it than the opponent.

2. It has to match the task at hand.

Fine blades are crafted with specific characteristics that suit them to a particular purpose. (Think bread knife vs. meat cleaver, bone saw vs. scalpel.) In fact, some of the best knives (like that odd split one for sectioning grapefruit, or the almost floppy one for filleting fish) are only really good for one task—and ill-suited for just about anything else. A double-edged sword is unsuitable for most blade tasks in my daily life, but if I ever meet a dragon, (or the six-fingered man who killed my father) I sure hope I have one handy.

So, is social entrepreneurship a two-edged sword? In the right hands and put to the appropriate tasks, I think it could be.

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