What’s in a Name?

Cloud of common words on UnSectored

We write a lot about language on UnSectored. Proper language use is a particularly important issue to me, especially language used in the social sector. I feel like there are too many terms thrown around with multiple meanings, which leads to misunderstandings between people working toward the same goal. Case in point: At our last UnSectored Talk on social enterprise, as a group, we couldn’t even come up with a single definition for the term.

It is even more difficult to find a word that encapsulates the full spectrum of topics of what we discuss here on UnSectored. When I’m out speaking about UnSectored, it often gets labeled as a blog about social entrepreneurship. This is accurate, but doesn’t get at the full scope of what we are trying to do here. We aren’t about one thing, but the plethora of activities, ideas and models that make up today’s changing perspectives on social change and making the world a better place.

At times, like in the first paragraph of this post, I’ve called the space this movement occupies the “social sector.” That’s a weak term, as the work isn’t limited to one sector, but permeates throughout many different sectors. I’ve called it social change, as I did in the preceding paragraph, but that term is limiting not only in its connotations (its historically been used by activists in the nonprofit sector), but more so because, by definition, overarching change will be social (what else would be changing?) and the term doesn’t inherently imply that things are changing for the better. Lately, I’ve been using “sustainable capitalism” to describe what we are all working for. This has its issues as well, not only because of the connotations (typically been used in the corporate social responsibility movement), but because what we want to accomplish is not a modification of capitalism, but a full restructuring.

I’m left with calling what we do on UnSectored “unsectored” work, a circular definition at best. It is great that some have taken this term to heart and begun to use it to describe their own activities, but unsectored is a process, not a movement. We have decided that UnSectored, on its own, has no goals but to facilitate interaction and change the conversation about social change. (See, there’s that term again!) Lowercase unsectored describes a process of working together to create change with intentionality, diversity, and inclusiveness, but it doesn’t accurately describe the global movement we are seeing and writing about here on uppercase UnSectored.

So what’s in a name? Do we need to define these different parts of the spectrum of change? Is the shared feeling we get when we talk about the new ways to improve our communities enough understanding to go on? For now, probably yes. But not for much longer. As social enterprises become the norm and cross-sector collaboration is established as the default, we will need to develop strict terminology for these different types of activities, models, and ideas, just as other industries have clearly defined components.

Here’s what I hope: This work will simply become “work.” There will be no distinction from social-changey work and “regular” work because “regular” work will become social-changey work. People from all backgrounds and sectors are beginning to realize that working to improve communities, not just selling products and services, is a better business model. That’s why I’m not so concerned with hashing down definitions for social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, cross-sector collaboration, social change.

I’m hopeful that in a few years, we won’t be using them anymore.

  • http://twitter.com/mrwweb Mark Root-Wiley

    Great post, Jeff! This is thought-provoking stuff, and I appreciate that you work through these thoughts out in the open. It strikes me as a very unsectored thing to do.

    • http://www.unsectored.net Jeff Raderstrong

      Thanks so much for reading Mark! Appreciate the kind words. It is an important conversation, so where better to have it than out in the open?

  • http://truthandprogress.wordpress.com Christian Flores-Carignan

    It’s clear to me that we are all after social progress. And what UnSectored is about is pursuing that through all sectors available in as collaborative a manner as possible. You became sick of the various sectors operating in echo chambers and so decided to found UnSectored to promote the unsectored pursuit of social progress. Well, this is the way I see it anyway.

    • http://www.unsectored.net Jeff Raderstrong

      Thanks Christian–you are right on with your thinking. Thanks for your comments an your good work!

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