The growth of new business models that both turn a profit and do good gives those who are entering the professional world a new choice.
College graduates, for example, no longer have to choose between a career path of making profits and one of doing good. They can choose to do both.
I attended the recent Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard University to meet with young entrepreneurs who have started hybrid ventures that combine business principles with social good. I was particularly struck by the young social entrepreneurs who were a part of a keynote panel.
All of them have created interesting ventures that seek to address problems they’ve encountered in their efforts to make a difference. And their stories offer an interesting look at how and why some people are turning their passion for changing the world into for-profit ventures.
The panel’s moderator was Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute, which gathers 25 entrepreneurs from around the globe in Boulder, Colo., for an intensive six-week summer program that aims to accelerate their social ventures.
Mr. Epstein is an avid believer in entrepreneurship—he had already created three ventures by the time he got his undergraduate degree. He started two others before creating the Unreasonable Institute, a social venture to gather others like him who wanted to use profit to drive change.
Joining him on the panel were three other social entrepreneurs:
Kavita Shukla, an inventor and the founder Fenugreen, the producer of FreshPaper, a product that extends the freshness of produce. Revenues generated through sales help to support the research and development of more solutions to further reduce the global issue of food spoilage.
Taylor Conroy, the creator of a turnkey online fundraising platform that has been successfully tested and will be made available for any individual or charity to use when it’s completed.
Lauren Bush Lauren, co-founder of Feed Projects, a company that makes and sells luxury fashion handbags and other items to help raise awareness and money for the U.N. World Food Program, Unicef, and other charities.
In listening to their panel conversation and speaking with each of them afterward, I was struck by the fact that none of them followed a traditional route to address problems. Specifically, Ms. Shukla initially wanted to give FreshPaper away as a charitable venture. But she couldn’t find any organizations interested in supporting it. Ms. Lauren, a fashion design student, had the original idea for the Feed 1 bag while she was an ambassador for the World Food Program, but she found the organization wasn’t equipped to lead the effort.
In both cases, they found more success selling their products and using the proceeds to help promote change.
While some bemoan the continual growth of the number of nonprofits and others are suspicious of the motives of for-profit social enterprises, these young entrepreneurs’ stories paint a different picture.
All of these ventures share the same desire: to create a positive social impact. While the routes are different, the goal is the same.
Perhaps it’s time for us to recognize that the proliferation of new nonprofits and social ventures is more a reflection of increasing social needs and the incumbent organizations’ inability to meet those needs using existing structures.
What do you think? What role can social entrepreneurs play in solving social issues? Is it possible to create social impact if you also want to make a profit?