In the preface to this short and thought-provoking book, author Michael Edwards suggests; "With America having lost its economic senses under the first MBA president, George W. Bush, and started to regain them under the community organizer who replaced him, Barak H.Obama, it seems appropriate to ask whether America or any other country will be better placed to solve its problems through the application of more business thinking."
' Small Change' explores the shortcomings of philanthropy and how it might be re-designed ultimately to obviate the need for it altogether.
In an earlier book, the author first coined the rather clumsy phrase `philanthropcapitalism'. It embraces the activities of the world's wealthiest people - people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett - who believe that traditional ways of solving social problems do not work, so business thinking and market forces should be added to the mix.
While acknowledging that massive philanthropic injections of funds can save lives and educate many millions, Michael Edward argues they do not bring about `social transformation' - an overhaul of the systems and power relations that have created the inequalities in health and education in the first place. As such, big business is seen as part of the problem not the solution, with philanthropy tackling the symptoms, but not the causes.
Enter social enterprise - with more explicit social and environmental objectives - and other blends of business values and human values, each to be assessed by its potential to truly transform society and change existing power structures. From workforce control to empowerment, from top-down to bottom-up development and change, from competition to co-operation between companies. It would be interesting to assess how far social enterprises in the UK support or challenge the status quo; a new dimension for measuring social return on investment perhaps?
In just over 100 pages, Michael Edwards has tackled a massive subject, and tackled it well. Any limitations in coverage are those arising from the author's CV - an Englishman who has worked with international development agencies, now living and working in New York. But, despite there being little on development issues in the UK, there is still a lot to interest students of social enterprise everywhere. The book was first part-published in 2008 and the global economy is now much-changed. Arguably, those changes make this book more important than ever.