Great design can change the world. Resource depletion is an ongoing concern, as the world population continues to swell past seven billion. More and more, individuals with entrepreneurial spirit are creating social innovations and successful business ventures that address these concerns. As the interactively resourceful engage with an uncertain economic landscape, new social entrepreneurship business models are emerging.
Although the term social entrepreneurship has been around for decades, it gained momentum after the Wall Street crash of 2008. As we see a societal shift in awareness of our global challenges—in part brought forth by the collective sharing that is occurring online—we are seeing an ever-growing shift in consumer behaviour—one that equates business value to products, tools and services that benefit the common good, for current and future generations. Social entrepreneurs believe that good business and helping others is a compatible pursuit.
The term social entrepreneurship is—on the surface—an exercise in semantics, marrying two words that have different, possibly contrary meanings. Veiled socialistic endeavours or capitalist appropriation? Call it what you want, but there are success stories out there.
Two Degrees (on Twitter, @TwoDegreesFood) supports a business model where a meal is given to a hungry child for every one of their consciously crafted health food bar purchased. Tiffinday (@Tiffinday) has built into their mission that everyone has a right to delicious and nutritious meals. They are committed to environmental responsibility, community enrichment, reusable equipment, and equal opportunity employment. Eva’s Initiatives (@evasinitiatives) works collaboratively with homeless and at-risk youth, providing safe shelter and a range of progressive services and long term solutions, to help those in need lead productive, self-sufficient and healthy lives. Roozt is an online marketplace that supports otherwise hard to find socially conscious companies with strong missions, providing a convenient portal that helps the socially conscious consumer find deals on ethically produced products and services. Additionally, 1% of all purchases are donated to the charity of your choice.
Toronto is fortunate to have an environment such as the Centre For Social Innovation, an actual bricks-and-mortar enterprise that brings together and nurtures people with emerging enterprises and business models that can change the world for the better.
Books are cropping up on how to start, build and run businesses that improve the world we live in. When a Social Entrepreneurship for Dummies book appears, you know a tipping point has been reached. Progressive minds are looking to launch sustainable business models, while tapping into the long tail niche profit opportunities Wired Magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson predicted.
Leaders of existing businesses would do well to consider refashioning aspects of their business to reflect this paradigm shift, communicating their reforms at a more strategic and less tactical level, to maximize potential social profitability. CEOs need to be tweeting their company’s vision for the future, not their marketing departments.
The time is ripe to start a business that reduces the carbon footprint, to create tools that will help sustain our resources for future generations, and products that will create positive, educated, and informed social change. Do it now. Because, let’s face it, old school greedy capitalism is oh so 2007.
Michael Thorner tweets at @michaelthorner
This column originally appeared in IN Toronto Magazine, March 2012 issue.
Editor: Gordon Bowness