Should social entrepreneurs become politicians?

In the wake of elections in the UK last week, Mel and Alex discuss leadership and what politics could look like with a very different type of politician…

Alex Matthews: We had big local elections across much of the UK last week, so there has been a lot of discussion about leadership, and it’s made me think about all the social entrepreneurs I have met and how they would make brilliant leaders – passionate, hardworking, committed to improving the lives of others. Politics would seem an obvious next step as you can implement broad change that affects millions of people – so why don’t we see more social entrepreneurs in politics?

Mel Young: That’s an interesting question. I think the simple answer is that many social entrepreneurs think that they can make a much bigger impact outside of politics. They are able to focus on one particular issue and some of them have made an incredible difference. And they can do it quite quickly with a small amount of resources. Governments across the globe are becoming smaller and social entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill the vaccuum. So, I can’t see many of them changing track to be honest, but it would be interesting to imagine a situation where they were leaders – the world would certainly be a different space! 

AM: It’s a shame as I think governments would be so much better if they were filled with people who possessed the qualities that so many social entrepreneurs have. That’s an interesting point you make about governments getting smaller, so they have in effect outsourced what used to be ‘big government’ to social entrepreneurs and the charity sector – looking after people who have been left behind, creating communities etc. 

I really think that governments run by social entrepreneurs would be a good thing. For one thing, social entrepreneurs are incredibly resourceful – they have to be – so I am sure we would see more results for the same amount of spending! What’s more, the focus would always be on outcomes – how has a particular policy benefitted the planet or communities, for example. There would be much less, if any, corruption, and more would get done. I think the end result would be that people would trust their leaders more and therefore be more engaged with politics. What do you think?

MY: Hmm. The one thing that would be different would be the whole tone. Social entrepreneurs would work as a team, I am sure. Politics is currently dominated by endless bickering – what I call incessant noise. Often they agree on an issue, but have to take a party line which means that they end up disagreeing; rather than establishing a way forward which is solution-based, the party system creates division. Social entrepreneurs, even if they don’t agree with one another, would be solution-focussed and try to work as a team. The whole atmosphere around political leadership would change.

AM: And wouldn’t that be a relief! It feels like politics across the world is so toxic, and ordinary people just don’t want to engage, and feel powerless to change anything – I certainly feel that way. If social entrepreneurs were in charge, I think people would start to believe that they had politicians who had their best interests at heart, and would trust them. I think it would have ramifications across the whole of society; if a country trusts its leaders, I think that trust flows down, so there would be more trust across society as well. Our current system, as you say, is very divided, so people take sides, and that engenders mistrust and even tribalism, which we talked about a few weeks ago

MY: It is interesting to imagine social entrepreneurs as political leaders who are running the world! The mind boggles actually! But in reality no social entrepreneur would want to get involved in politics – or almost none. There is a huge barrier and social entrepreneurs will simply focus on what they are doing with passion and energy. What we are discussing at The New Ism is what a new system might look like which creates a better world. What political and economic system will bring other people into this leadership space? It is not just about an autocratic system versus an open system; once again we need to examine what a completely new system looks like. And that is a hard question to answer but one which we should debate.

AM: You’re right – the system needs to change to encourage different people to join politics. Again, this is a really important topic that needs to be discussed and will come up a lot in conversations at The New Ism. 

Perhaps one day we will see a former, or even current, social entrepreneur in a key position in government. Perhaps it’s time to run for Prime Minister Mel?!

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