There’s a great discussion going on at Venture4Change today, and one of the topics is on the role of the Leader/Entrepreneur/CEO in a Social Enterprise or NFP – the consensus at the table is that social enterprises need to eliminate the role of the “Celebrity CEO” and rather focus on building depth and breadth in their organizations.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Although I do agree with a strong emphasis on sustainability, succession planning, and other core good governance topics, one of the reasons that for-profit entrepreneurs can be so successful is that they don’t hesitate to jump in with both feet; they don’t hesitate to let their venture define their identity.
If someone is launching a social enterprise (something that I would argue is far more difficult than a for-profit enterprise), they can’t afford to launch a project while keeping one foot out the door. By refusing to adopt the mantle of “Celebrity CEO”, a social entrepreneur is squandering their most valuable resource during the start-up stage: their story.
Here are some examples of Celebrity CEOs that social entrepreneurs can use as touchstones:
- George Roter & Parker Mitchell => Engineers Without Borders
- Craig Kielburger => Free the Children
- John Wood => Room to Read
As crass as it may sound, donors and partners are like customers in that they don’t want to have to think more than absolutely necessary. It behoves a social enterprise to make it as easy as possible for a donor or partner to understand the story and value. Tying the Founder’s or CEO’s identity to this story makes the process much easier.
Yes, as an organization grows, it needs to be about more than just the Founder/CEO. However, discarding the value of a “Celebrity CEO” for the sake of long-term sustainability goals, is simply road that will be longer, harder, and less likely to succeed.