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Book review: WEconomy

WeconomyI was very much looking forward to reading this book for several reasons. First, I have recently moved to Toronto and it’s hard to breathe without being exposed to something related to ‘Me to We’ – whether it is at the children’s school, in the media or just in general conversation with friends. The overriding vibe about this organisation is that it is a phenomenal Canadian success story, taking the concept of social enterprise to the next level. Most people can’t believe that ‘foreigners’ have never heard about Me to We.

I have also been a trustee of a South African charity called Afrika Tikkun for over a decade. And during that time I have seen first hand just how difficult it is to raise money – especially when you are raising funds and awareness beyond the local community. So I was intrigued to hear Me to We’s formula for success.

In a nutshell, the book taught me what I already know – fundraising is a grind. And it takes a very special type of person, combined with extraordinary circumstances to build a charity like Me to We…from the age of 12. From the sheer determination to meet the Prime Minister, to getting endorsed by Oprah – not just anyone can do this. I say this not to take away from the book (or the incredible work the Kielburger brothers have done), but to warn you not to be disheartened. These guys are truly one in a million, but it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

This book is based on fundamental principles I strongly uphold – a purpose-driven business or organization has the potential to be much more powerful and successful than a profit-driven one. That’s the starting point.

But if you want to build a business and hire people (or pay yourself), a business MUST make money. Anyone starting a business with their own cash knows that. You have to be able to do something that keeps the lights on – and I’m not sure this book addresses that. The messages conflict with each other – on page 72 we get an anecdote about a conversation between Richard Branson and his son-in-law Freddie where Freddie must be convinced ‘it’s not all about the money’ whereas on page 80 one of the key lessons is that ‘it’s all about the bottom line’. But the practical advice on how to reconcile these two ideas just isn’t there.

I was hoping the book would contain more of a blueprint for how to successfully run a social enterprise – a formula for costs versus profit and how to plough money back into the cause you support while still having the wherewithal to hire phenomenal people to make the business successful. It’s a fine balance and one I’d like to hear more about. Instinctively it feels like the Kielburger brothers could be trailblazers in this, but it needs some academic rigour, rather than just hyperbole around building a business with purpose.

I don’t mean to be negative — this is a good read with lots of inspiring stories. I think I was just hoping for something a little more.

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