I attended a presentation at Chicago Ideas Week entitled “Social Entrepreneurship: My Venture Changes the World. Does Yours?” I was hoping to find out more about how companies in the real world have blended making money and changing the world. I was disappointed in my quest, and I suspect that I wasn’t the only one. All eight of the presenters represented non-profit organizations. Only one organization appeared to be making a substantial effort at generating revenues from for-profit activities.
Now I don’t have anything against non-profits. They’re terrific organizations staffed by people who work hard at making the world a better place. My concern is in the message that is sent to for-profit companies that want to change the world; that they are a small minority and not yet deserving of a focus on their efforts. I happen to disagree; it is the efforts of for-profit social entrepreneurs that will have the greatest impact, due to their financially sustainable models.
We need to start doing a better job of promoting the efforts of the true social entrepreneurs in our society, well-known companies such as Patagonia, Honest Tea, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream; smaller entrepreneurial ventures such as Young Rembrandts and Recycle Technologies (full disclosure: clients of mine;) and ventures within for-profits that test the business model, such as iGo Cars and CNT Energy (affiliates of a client.) Such social entrepreneurs provide proof of concept that a singular focus on profits is not necessary to be a successful and profitable company.