Impact or Purpose: Let the Fight Begin

Is Apple the greatest Social Enterprise in China? Are its managers the greatest social  entrepreneurs of all time?

This question cuts at the heart of the definition of social entrepreneurship. Is it about purpose of the company, or about total impact.

After working at a microfianance company in China all summer doing their social impact analysis, I found myself asking myself the same question over and over. Is Apple the greatest social enterprise in China? Here my company was, slaving away day in and day out to bring credit to fewer than 15,000 blue-collar workers. That’s not a small number, for sure, but when you look at the number of actual transactions that people made over the course of their enrollment in our company’s program, I began to wonder if there were more than 5000 active credit-users at any given time.

Let’s compare that quickly to Apple in China. Apple co. outsources their manufacturing to a company called Foxconn, which became infamous for their employee suicides- jumpers from factory rooftops. They received quite a bit of a backlash, but here are some very interesting facts for you to consider before you condemn Foxconn and their working conditions.

  1. The suicide rate of Foxconn workers isn’t higher than the Chinese national average for suicide.
  2. Foxconn workers are actually paid pretty good wages for blue-collar workers.
  3. When I went down and drove past the factories, there were literally hundreds of people lining up outside the application office, waiting for their turn to fill out a form so they had a chance to apply to work there.

Foxconn employs over 300,000 workers. That’s almost a third of a million people that they’re paying good wages (for Chinese blue-collar workers) to that they can plough into their homes, families, future savings, education, etc.

And I have a very hard time believing that even though my company was cool, that we’re having a comparable impact.

So is Apple the greatest social enterprise in China? I would love to hear your thoughts.