Our Theme for the School Year: Social Enterprise

Law and Economics Society, UCI Law

In the coming academic year, the Law and Economics Society at UCI Law will host a series of events and activities that relate to the organization’s theme for the year: social enterprise. Social enterprise is an umbrella term used to describe organizations that use market-based mechanisms to address social problems. Social enterprises may be legally organized as corporations, not-for-profits, or partnerships. Central to social enterprise is critically analyzing the limitations of status quo social service delivery systems. Some high profile examples include: The Mozilla Corporation (software), TOMS Shoes (apparel), Better Place (electric vehicle infrastructure), and the Grameen Bank (micro-finance).

One of the biggest challenges faced by social entrepreneurs is selecting the most appropriate legal form to navigate the legal landscape. Bifurcated between for profit and not-for-profit, current legal forms are ill-fitting and require creative legal thinking. Many traditional areas of corporate practice also require modification to properly serve social enterprises. We hope to explore how areas such as tax, intellectual property, international investment, capital formation, and employment intersect with social entrepreneurship.

Social enterprise is an ideal topic for UCI Law, with its commitment to public interest and interdisciplinary study. The social enterprise theme is not only an opportunity to collaborate with other UCI departments, but also a chance to engage public interest lawyering in a critical and non-traditional manner.

Social enterprise often focuses on the same issues that public interest law traditionally addresses: poverty, environmental degradation, identity-based inequality, and economic opportunity. But social enterprises emphasize long-term economic sustainability and project viability more than many traditional public interest organizations do.

Fundamentally, our hope for the coming year is to consider and discuss innovative models that make the world a better place. Social enterprise also provides an opportunity to discuss UCI Law’s commitment to public interest law on an international scale. So much of the public interest discourse in the legal community is focused locally and/or domestically. Where this discussion takes up international issues, it typically does so in the context of human rights. Social enterprise contemplates a different kind of international public interest, one that considers issues of economic imbalances, sustainable growth, and pressing environmental needs. We are wary of the legal community falling behind other professional communities in addressing global social justice issues. Hopefully, next year’s theme will also create an opportunity to discuss the ways social enterprise can and does intervene (positively and negatively) in the global public interest.

Our central organizational goals for next year are to (1) define social enterprise; (2) explore where lawyers are and should be involved in the social enterprise movement; and (3) create local and global opportunities for UCI Law students to provide pro bono legal services for social entrepreneurs. We hope to engage students through faculty brown bag lunches, outside speakers, film screenings, and pro bono opportunities.