When you hear the word “entrepreneur,” what comes to mind?
Do you automatically picture Bill Gates’ face and his fat stack of $89.3Million?
Or do you think of Doctors Without Borders, delivering emergency medical aid worldwide?
There are two opposing extremes on the entrepreneurial spectrum:
1. Profit-driven capitalists.
2. Purpose-driven socialists.
In the middle, there is a large gray area occupied by varying ideologies and practices pulling from the two extremes. That’s where the socially conscious companies exist.
What Is “Social Entrepreneurship?”
To define social entrepreneurship, we first have to define entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is the capacity and willingness to develop, organize, and manage a business venture along with any of its risks in order to make a profit.
*According to the Business Dictionary.
Social Entrepreneurship combines commerce and social issues in a way that improves the lives of people connected to the cause, where success is measured in terms of impact, not profit alone.
*As defined by Shopify Encyclopedia.
What Does Social Entrepreneurship Look Like?
On the purpose-driven extreme, social entrepreneurship comes in the form of traditional non-profits like Habitat for Humanity or Doctors Without Borders.
It comes in the form of for-profit Certified B-Corps like Method and Kickstarter, and private social enterprises like Fair Trade USA and Teach For America. Closer to the profit-driven side are the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) companies like Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s.
The primary difference among these companies is their mindset around money and their drive to impact.
Non-profits famously put the cause before profit, paying themselves little, if anything, and fueling the bulk of funds into the direct cause.
B Corps, for-profit companies certified by the non-profit B Lab, are required to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Social enterprises apply commercial strategies to improve human and environmental well-being, often with a focus on maximizing social impact and profits for shareholders.
Some large corporations that recognize how important social responsibility is to their customers bake CSR into their for-profit business model.
I previously held the belief that non-profits, by nature of their structure, were inherently more ethical than any for-profit companies with a baked in philanthropic component could ever be.
Then, I watched Dan Pallotta’s Ted Talk, The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong, and my mentality around charity expanded.
The truth is: as consumers, we actively participate in a system that backs big, for-profit corporations, and leaves the non-profit charities out on their backs.
Think about it.
How many times have you been leery to donate your hard-earned money to a cause? Did you find yourself asking, “Will 100% of my donation go directly to the cause?” Were you outraged to learn a portion of it would actually go to overhead expenses—or worse—marketing?
You’re not the only one. Most of us believe that if we’re donating, it should go directly to the cause.
So how come when we purchase a soda or the latest kicks, we don’t ask the same questions?
When you purchase a bottle of Coca Cola, you are supporting the corporation’s brand, message, profit, and impact (positive or negative) on the world, no matter how indirect or distanced the choice may feel.
But if increased profits would allow a company to do more good, why wouldn’t we support that? If maintaining, or increasing overhead costs and bumping up marketing efforts could dramatically increase the direct impact on the cause, why wouldn’t we back that?
Because we’re taught to question charitable standards and functions in a way we’re not taught to question the big corporations.
Let’s look at an example…
I used to buy Tampax Pearl tampons. Then, I learned that corporations are not legally required to disclose the many harmful chemicals their products contain. I could have ignored that fact, bought the damn tampons like I had for years, and gone about my business.
But I realized a fundamental fact I couldn’t bury into my subconscious:
By purchasing that product, I was supporting something that I’m fundamentally against.
And I wasn’t ok with that.
Naturally, I turned to the internet. Along my search for alternatives, I discovered Lola organic tampons. They were a little more expensive than the previously mentioned brand, but the experience and convenience they offered, along with their mission and social impact, transformed a passive purchase into a political statement.
That was something I could get behind. And throw a couple extra dollars at.
Now, I’m not suggesting you become a radical conscious consumer overnight.
I’m simply challenging a return to childhood curiosity, where we asked critical questions unapologetically like we did before we were taught to keep our opinions to ourselves, play nice, and continuously hush our inner consciousness.
I’m suggesting that we all, as consumers and supporters of these companies in the market, think a little more critically about the purchases we make every day, their effect on ourselves, communities, bank accounts, and the world.
Because the small purchases we make everyday matter.
And it’s time to change our thinking around charity.
Social entrepreneurship only exists because of conscious consumers. If the market demands it, companies have no choice but to satisfy the demand.
That’s why social companies are on the rise.
The next time you’re about to buy a coffee, a household cleaner, or a plate of food, simply ask yourself, “Is this a reflection of who I am? Do I support this brand, what they stand for, their message, and the impact they’re having on the world?”
It’s easier not to ask these questions. To pick up the box of fried chicken, dull that inner whisper, and continue on as a passive purchaser.
Mother Teresa famously said, “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the waters to create a ripple.”
If every single person on this planet took a moment to contemplate this moral dilemma, cast a stone by making small, simple changes… imagine how far that ripple would run, the massive collective impact we could have on the industry, the norm, and the world at large.
I believe this topic is worthy of discussion. Whether you agree with my take in this article or not, let’s talk about it. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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