Brightergy’s summer intern Andrew Grin is a co-leader of Tulane’s Changemaker Institute, a social entrepreneurship incubator. He was also a 2013 CGI U participant.[/caption]
by Andrew Grin
The future of business is abuzz with chatter about the importance of incorporating social causes in business. I would know; I am one of those “future business people” (currently, I’m interning at Brightergy this summer), learning and listening to the types of businesses college students want to start and join. At Tulane University in New Orleans, my first class in the business school focused on social responsibility and business ethics – not finance or accounting. The basic educational framework for many new business students is being built around the challenges and decisions businesses face as members of society.
Some students in these discussions are looking to start their own “socially entrepreneurial” businesses, while others are looking to enter innovative and forward-thinking companies. As a college student, I hope to bring some perspective on new business types and simple ways your company can innovate and adapt for the future.
What is Social Entrepreneurship?
On the forefront of socially conscious businesses are individuals who are identifying societal failures as business opportunities: social entrepreneurs. These business owners are individuals creating innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems, creating both a social benefit and a profit on a large scale. The CEO and founder of Ashoka, an organization that assists social entrepreneurs, has said:
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”
Examples of Social Entrepreneurs
You may already know some of these entrepreneurs and companies, but never recognized them as “social entrepreneurs.” A popular example is Tom’s Shoes, which popularized the “One for One” business model. Founder Blake Mycoskie wanted to help the millions of children in poverty who don’t have shoes. But instead of going the non-profit route, he formed Tom’s Shoes. Blake sought to solve the shoe problem by pledging to give away one pair of shoes for every pair sold. The model sparked a movement that has created dedicated customers and advocates who continue to promote sales of Tom’s Shoes. Tom’s has given away more than one million shoes and has now expanded its One for One model to eye glasses.
At Tulane, I have been involved in assisting students creating similar businesses. I was drawn to Tulane because the university recognizes the importance of these new business models. For the past two years, I have co-led a social entrepreneurship incubator–Tulane’s Changemaker Institute, which supports students through workshops and funding. The program has helped generate Tulane’s own crop of social entrepreneurs, like Humanure Power, a business building community toilet blocks in India which generate electricity from methane, that can be sold to community members (Video: this is a great explanation of their business).
How Does Social Entrepreneurship Relate to My Business?
New social businesses are all well and good, but you are probably asking how do they relate to my business? These concepts are creating innovative businesses that demonstrate how companies can be a force for good, while at the same time, increasing sales. Their fundamental ideas can also be implemented in existing businesses through corporate social entrepreneurs: employees that “operate in a socially entrepreneurial manner; identifying opportunities for and/or championing socially responsible activity, in addition to helping the firm achieve its business targets” (Source: see Wikipedia).
Businesses large and small are recognizing their impact on the world, and aligning their values with those of their customers and employees. Every decision made inside an office has an impact on the world, socially and environmentally. When searching for an internship for the summer, I was drawn to Brightergy because of the company’s commitment to helping other businesses be more environmentally conscious, while helping their bottom line. Brightergy is helping businesses make changes to their electricity needs that are in line with their strong values and the values of their customers, all while creating a solid investment opportunity.
How to Adopt Corporate Social Entrepreneurship
There are many ways for existing business people to become corporate social entrepreneurs. After you have recognized the ways in which your business interacts and affects your community, you can take steps to enhance your positive impact, like creating jobs or offering a great product or service, and mitigate any negatives, like pollution or creation of waste.
Simple steps you can take:
- Take advantage of opportunities to save on energy costs. Energy efficiency and solar power are terrific tactics to improve bottom line and reduce your pollution of the environment.
- Source products from responsible suppliers that manufacture in safe working conditions and pay workers a fair wage (See fair trade).
- Reduce waste and recycle at your office, which companies like GM are doing to save billions of dollars.
- Give back to your community through volunteering and sponsorship of local organizations.
These tips are just the start of many steps you can take to become a corporate social entrepreneur, acting in a socially responsible manner, while improving your business.