Nonprofit Conference

Staying on the leading edge: The several economies of the social sector

posted by Pat Lewis,
Senior Professional
in Residence
ASU Lodestar Center

What is the nonprofit sector’s contribution to society’s economics? This is a question often asked — but responding in true economic terms has been more difficult. Although the ‘double bottom line’ — profit and social value — have long been recognized, there are now new ways of looking at this question, encompassed in new terms: social, core, and monetary economies.

Dr. Laurie Mook, a professor at Arizona State University, defines the term social economy as:

A bridging concept for organizations that have social objectives central to their mission and their practice, and either have explicit economic objectives or generate some economic value through the services they provide and purchases they undertake. The term social economy puts up front the economic value of social organizations — that they produce and market services, employ people, may own valuable assets, and generate social value.1

Another perspective on the concept of social economy is that of Edgar Cahn, who suggests we have created two systems that are inter-related: the monetary economyand the core economy. He explains that the monetary economy is what we measure. It encompasses the income sources that drive our society: profit, government, philanthropy, earned income. The core economy, although supported by money, is not driven by it. It is “primarily powered by our minds, our spirits, our hearts.”2 It can be described as “family, neighborhood, community and civil society.”3 It is often invisible, overlooked, or unacknowledged. A dilemma is how to bring it to the fore and measure it for its overwhelming value. One way this can be accomplished is through “time banking,” which will be addressed in Edgar Cahn’s keynote address at the ASU Lodestar Center’s 20th Annual Conference on Sustainability Strategies, Oct. 18 & 19.