Mozilla is an unusual organization, perhaps even unique. But we are part of a new type of organization — organizations that are mission — driven but use market mechanisms to achieve their goals. By “mission driven” I mean an organization that exists to provide social and civic value. In Mozilla’s case we have a public benefit mission — building an Internet that is open and participatory, where people have meaningful choices about their Internet experience. By “market mechanism” I mean that we use tools that non-profit organizations traditionally haven’t. We use financial tools — we sustain ourselves by generating revenue from our activities, rather than relying completely on grants and donations. We also use the “market” to drive change. In the Internet industry today we are promoting open source, innovation and participation by building products people want to use. Because so many people use our products, we are able to influence technical and policy decisions.
Both John and I have been using the phrase “hybrid organization” to describe this group of organizations. It’s a useful word, but not necessarily precise. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
One important point is that Mozilla is not alone in being a hybrid organization. We are very rare in the technology space. And even rarer in having our size and scope in the technology world. But we are part of a large world of organizations that are combining a social purpose with new tools for financial sustainability. That means some smart people have already been thinking about how to describe these new organizations and we can learn from them.
So, what does a “hybrid organization” mean? There seems to be some academic history of using “hybrid” to mean different types of organizations working together. That’s not what we mean. Wikipedia has a definition of “hybrid organization” that is closer, describing them as operating
in both the public sector and the private sector, simultaneously fulfilling public duties and developing commercial market activities. As a result the hybrid organization becomes a mixture of both a part of government and a commercial enterprise.
The first sentence fits the world I’m trying to describe. But the reference to a hybrid organization being partly “government” is not what I think of with Mozilla. With a little poking around on the Web I found not only a nice description of hybrid organizations but also a very well thought out framework for distinguishing between different gradations of hybrid organizations. (Have I said recently how much I love the Web?).
Here I’m going to call out a few points. This is partly because I’m finding the framework useful for thinking about the broad range of organizational structures people are trying. And it’s partly because the materials help set Mozilla within a larger set of organizations working to create social value in new ways. The author describes a spectrum of hybrid organizations, ranging from “corporations practicing social responsibility” to non-profits that generate income. One type of hybrid with this spectrum is the “Social Enterprise” which is
“any business venture created for a social purpose — mitigating/reducing a social problem or a market failure — and to generate social value while operating with the financial discipline, innovation and determination of a private sector business.” Source
This definitely describes the Mozilla Corporation. (I’m leaving aside for the moment whether one applies this designation to the Mozilla Foundation itself; or treats the Mozilla Foundation as more of a pure non-profit parent of a Social Enterprise.
The world of Social Enterprises is further divided into social enterprises where the “social programs and business activities are one and the same” (the “embedded social enterprise”) and where they are related but not necessarily the same (the “related social enterprise”). In our case, our social programs — creating, distributing and helping people enjoy open source software products — and our business activities are the same.
This slide captures all of this in one place. It describes Mozilla extremely well. We are a mission-driven organization, a portion of which (Mozilla Corporation and soon MailCo) perform some traditionally commercial activities as an integral part of accomplishing the mission. (I would like to copy the entire slide, but haven’t yet contacted the author to see how much I can reproduce here.)
“Embedded mission-centric social enterprise.” That’s a lot of words and I’ll probably keep using “hybrid” in most settings. But each of these words has a specific meaning, often capturing a concept I’ve been trying to organize somehow. Each helps place Mozilla among other organizations. How are we like /unlike microfinance? How are we like / unlike kiva.org? How are we like / unlike the Fair Trade organizations? And, it helps distinguish us from the makers of other browsers and products, *whether or not those products are built using open source software.* The open source nature of Firefox and Thunderbird is fundamental; other products in the market may match those (though none do today). The public-benefit, mission-driven nature of Mozilla is also fundamental, and this regard we are very close to unique.