Doing Business for Good

social-enterpriseI love the idea of the social enterprise, or a “business with a cause”.  I believe social enterprises have the best chance of being sustainable and scalable when it comes to humanitarian and development work.  From an HR standpoint, sustainable businesses are good for people, communities, and the economy--and create meaningful jobs.    Beneficiaries of aid and development agencies always worry about what happens when aid and development agencies go away.  And they have good reason to worry.  Many traditional aid and poverty alleviation approaches have not proven to be very sustainable for millions of poor people and they have not helped the poor improve their lives in a meaningful and productive way. What is a social enterprise?  It is an organization with a social mission that sells goods and/or provides services to offset its operational expenses. It can be a for-profit or non-profit business.  In the case of a for profit business, the profit goes to support the social cause (such as addressing a concern of a marginalized population or an environmental issue).  Similarly in the non-profit organization, the retained earnings (or “profit”) for the business support the social cause.  But in the case of the non-profit, this business model also reduces the non-profit’s dependency on donors.    For a social enterprise to be successful, it must also be entrepreneurial in order to create social impacts that are transformational, sustainable, scalable—and bring about systemic change.

The social entrepreneur movement is exceedingly important to the people we serve, if the movement can indeed deliver on its promises.  For this reason, periodically I will be highlighting a social enterprise which I hope will inspire the creation or adoption of more of these “businesses for good.”