This is an important question and one that is rarely given serious consideration. Of course more entrepreneurs means more wealth means better communities. Right?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
In the current context most enterprise programmes focus on finding individual entrepreneurs and helping them to find ways of making their business ideas work. There is a good chance that as soon as this happens the entrepreneur will find their new found success gives them the option of leaving the community for a more prosperous one. This is because their success has been in spite of the local community and not because of it. The community is something to be escaped from. This approach to enterprise in the community plays up the role of the entrepreneur as individualistic hero(ine) fighting against the odds. If it succeeds then the community is actually weakened as successful people are able to leave.
So if we want enterprise to enable individuals to succeed and escape ‘deprived communities’ then this sort of individualistic approach to enterprise can work.
However if our goal is to transform communities through enterprise then we need to adopt very different models of enterprise development. We need to develop a context in which enterprise can succeed BECAUSE of the community context and not in spite of it. Where success ties enterprise into the community rather than provides a spring board out of it. Only when we learn how to nurture this type of enterprise development will it become a tool to really transform communities as well as individuals.
These transformational approaches emphasise enterprise as a social phenomenon. They bring people together to collaborate on possibilities and to develop stories of hope and change. They emphasise the role of the local community in supporting enterprise with patronage but also with advice, support, guidance and introductions. They build enterprise services where local people can succeed in making progress because of their communities rather than in spite of them.
If we want to succeed in transforming communities through enterprise then this needs to be given some serious consideration.
The ability of projects to build social capital and to raise the collective understanding of enterprise and the role of the community in supporting it, as well raising the ability and potential of individual entrepreneurs will be key.
So what do we want enterprise to do for us?