Asheem Singh’s The Moral Marketplace discusses the growing social enterprise phenomenon. If that sounds like jargon to you, fear not – I had never heard of social enterprise until I picked up Singh’s book. The term social enterprise refers to organisations which aim to positively impact the world by commercial means. That may be socially, like the Girl Child Network, a community which aims to empower young girls in Zimbabwe, or financially, like microcredit organisation Grameen Bank, which proffers low-interest loans to support social enterprise in deprived areas. Often, social enterprises aim to have as little environmental impact as possible.
Singh’s writing is witty but masterful: he draws the reader in quickly, and chapter by chapter satiates growing interest. An extremely nuanced analysis of modern economics, appealing to the economist and layperson alike, Singh’s book broadcasts the value of social enterprise in a notably unaggressive manner.
A book like The Moral Marketplace runs the risk of preaching to its audience – when an author is this passionate about their cause, it isn’t unusual for them to believe a little too blindly in it. Admittedly, as former chief executive of charity and social enterprise network Acevo, it is evident which side Singh plays for. Still, his arguments are well-balanced, particularly his questioning of what it really means for a moral marketplace to be moral. Is saving a life in Bangladesh more ethical than saving a life in Connecticut, Singh queries? Ultimately, he concludes, it is impossible to know, although he points out that most social enterprise focuses on the developing world, where it is much cheaper to improve quality of life.
Questions of morality abound in the book; in the first chapter (whimsically named “The man who invented a chicken”), Singh seems to sing the praises of the Kuroiler. This product, a genetically modified chicken created and marketed by chicken farmer-cum-entrepreneur Vinod Kapur, aims to repurpose the chicken industry to fight poverty. The Kuroiler weighs a kilogram more than the native Indian chicken, and lays more than three times as many eggs in a year: a seeming huge success for the moral marketplace. That is, Singh concedes, until we acknowledge the ethical issues surrounding genetic modification, and the swathes of vegetarians and vegans who disagree with the consumption of meat for ethical reasons.
Chapter by chapter, Singh throws these ethical conundrums at the reader. It is not just an issue of who receives what – he makes it clear that, no matter the ethical decision, there is no single solution that can please everyone. Singh concludes by reminding us to ‘take responsibility, no matter how small’. It is obvious throughout the book that he is the reader’s guide on the journey of discovering, and implementing, social enterprise. One of the most important things we can learn from Singh’s enlightening worldview is that every action has a consequence; it is our duty to make that consequence good. “What’s stopping us?” he asks.
The Moral Marketplace by Asheem Singh.
(Policy Press, 2018).
Image: Policy Press.