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Response to Editorial: "Talking the Talk When Talk is Cheap"

“Talking the Talk When Talk is Cheap” is a disappointing example of biased journalism that presents opinions about a situation without considering the larger context in which the situation occurs. Perhaps the

Initiative on Social Enterprise could have better communicated the message about potential funding cuts in the Summer Fellowship Program.

However, the suggestions in the editorial that the Initiative was, at best, unintelligent for not anticipating the increased applications and securing the funding earlier or, at worse, evil for roping students into the program even though it knew about the funding gap long ago, are equally baseless. Similarly, the Editors’ comments on the social enterprise field as a whole are unsubstantiated and offensive.

First, on anticipating applications, the Editors seem to think that a bad economy plus substantial promotion of the program automatically equals increased Fellowship applications. If only demand forecasts were that simple. The number of Fellows this year may indeed represent a 100% over last year’s participant numbers. Just as the investment banks and consulting firms could not have predicted that the level of acceptances would break all historical records, neither could the Initiative.

Second, the suggestion that the Initiative was disingenuously promising subsidies that it knew it didn’t have just to get people in the program simply does not make sense. First, from a self-interested point of view, why would the Initiative do that? This bluff would inevitably be called (paychecks don’t lie) and the reputational repercussions would be huge. Second, and more importantly, the budgeting process is complex and, as I understand it, largely out of individual departments’ control. Few departments have been left untouched by this year’s unexpected budget cuts. The timing and announcement of these reductions appear to need a recalibration to better fit the timing of the Fellowship. However, once again, this was not something that the Initiative could have foreseen.

Third, the Editors’ extrapolation that this instance exemplifies the “harsh reality that stands in stark contrast to the self-sabotaging ‘doing well by doing good’ double-speak often heard in conjunction with this sector” is a sweeping generalization unsupported by facts or examples.

The Fellowship incident highlights communication and budget processes that may need improvement, but it does nothing to counter the idea of “doing well by doing good.”

Finally, as the outgoing president of the Social Enterprise Club, I have been privileged to work closely with the people who work in the Initiative on a regular basis. Few people operate with more integrity and candor than these individuals. This truth makes “Talking the Talk’s” exaggerated questioning of the motivations, intention, and operations of the Initiative, which comes across more like personal slamming than thoughtful, editorial commentary, even more insulting.

The Initiative went to great lengths to remedy the financing problems and ultimately succeeded. The circumstances of late do nothing to undermine the value of the Fellowship program, both for students and social enterprise sponsors. Just ask any former Fellow or sponsorship organization if you need any more proof of this point.

[Editors’ Note: Editorials are, by definition, an expression of opinion and do not constitute “bias.” Our Editorials represent the viewpoints of The Harbus editorial board and are written on a rotating basis by members with the board’s advice and consent. We encourage responses and open discussion as part of this medium.

We must correct a factual assumption in the response above: though it may have appeared otherwise to some readers, nobody on The Harbus editorial board intended to challenge the integrity of the individuals associated with The Social Enterprise Initiative, nor did we ever assume that the Initiative promoted its Fellowships with sinister intentions. The board believed the apparent funding shortfall was as surprising to the Initiative as it was to the applicants.]

June 3, 2002
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