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Reimagining Entrepreneurship: The Indispensable Need for Fair Wages

In light of a recent news story that has caught the attention of many, we can't help but notice the urgent need to revisit our perspectives on social entrepreneurship and purpose-driven business. The story, published by Entrepreneur, revolves around Barbara Corcoran, a well-known business figure, who faced criticism for her advice to interns suggesting that they should work for free to gain experience and opportunities. While her intentions may have been rooted in the traditional thinking of "paying one's dues," it is time we acknowledge and rectify the fundamental flaws in this approach, primarily the inadvertent perpetuation of inequality and exploitation.


intern working in her office

Social entrepreneurship and purpose-driven businesses thrive on the core principles of creating a positive social impact and promoting a more equitable society. This implies a far-reaching responsibility that extends beyond the conventional bottom line to include fair practices such as equitable wages, shared ownership, and non-discriminatory employment policies.


1. The Imperative of Fair Wages

Fair wages are the cornerstone of a just and equitable society. By ensuring that every individual is adequately compensated for their efforts and skills, we recognise their contribution and safeguard their dignity and ability to lead a fulfilling life.


Working for free, as suggested by Corcoran, not only undermines the value of work but also creates a barrier for those who cannot afford to work without compensation. It inadvertently favours the privileged, who can subsidize unpaid work, thereby perpetuating the cycle of inequality. In a world grappling with widening wealth gaps and escalating living costs, it is incumbent upon purpose-driven businesses to champion fair wages and establish economic justice.


2. The Power of Shared Ownership

Through mechanisms like employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and cooperatives, shared ownership brings a sense of belonging and fosters a culture of mutual growth and sustainability. Employees who are part owners are more invested in the organization’s success and feel more valued, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction.


Moreover, shared ownership can serve as a tool for wealth redistribution, contributing to reducing economic disparities. For social entrepreneurs, incorporating shared ownership aligns with their mission of social impact and strengthens the business by enhancing employee commitment and loyalty.


3. Non-discriminatory Employment Policies: A Non-negotiable

Non-discrimination in the workplace is a fundamental human right. Social entrepreneurs must uphold this right by implementing and enforcing non-discriminatory employment policies. This means equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic.


A diverse and inclusive workforce enhances creativity, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities, paving the way for innovative solutions. It also reflects the organization's commitment to social justice, reinforcing its credibility and appeal to customers, employees, and investors.


We must replace exploitative practices with empowering ones to tackle the increasing inequalities in our society effectively. We need to reject the notion that anyone should work for free, extend the benefits of business success to all stakeholders through shared ownership, and ensure equality of opportunities for all, free from discrimination.


Purpose-driven businesses have a unique role in reimagining and reconstructing the business world as a space where profits and purpose coexist harmoniously. As social entrepreneurs, the onus lies on us to ensure that our enterprises remain true to their mission and contribute to a more equitable and inclusive world.


4. The special situation of interns

We acknowledge that the position of interns is a complex one. On the one hand, they contribute to the company's work, and on the other, they gain valuable training and practical experience. In an ideal scenario, the relationship is symbiotic, benefiting both parties.


Indeed, numerous models to finance internships reflect the different contexts in which they occur. For instance, a startup in its nascent phase might be short on workforce and funds. In such a case, a mutually agreed-upon arrangement where an intern works without monetary compensation can be beneficial. The intern gains first-hand experience and understanding of a crucial business stage that would not be available within an established company's environment. This practical experience can provide invaluable insight into the dynamics of launching and building a startup.


Similarly, non-profit organizations, charities, and social services often have constrained budgets. In these settings, unpaid internships might offer vital experience in fields the intern is passionate about and wishes to contribute to. Interns in these situations are often driven by the purpose and mission of these organizations rather than monetary gain.


There's also the model where educational institutions pay companies to host interns, acknowledging the time and resources the company invests in training the intern. This model is typically employed when the interns begin their professional education and require intensive mentoring and supervision.


However, it's vital to emphasize that while these scenarios might justify unpaid internships, they should be the exception, not the norm. It becomes a concerning issue when a multi-billionaire, such as Barbara Corcoran, suggests working extra without compensation as a strategy for success. While her advice might be aimed at urging interns to go the extra mile, it unintentionally signals an acceptance of unfair labour practices.


Even though working for free as an intern isn't always exploitative, the power dynamic can easily tilt the scales towards exploitation. It is, therefore, essential to have stringent safeguards, transparency, and open conversations about the terms of internships.


Unpaid internships must be mutually agreed upon and beneficial for both parties. The focus should remain on learning, growing, and gaining practical experience, not replacing full-time employees with unpaid interns. A healthy business ecosystem respects all its members' contributions, and recognising interns' work should be no exception.

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