This panel tackled a difficult question: Can you do good and be profitable at the same time? How can an organization effectively harness resources to implement a healthy balance between profit and not-for-profit models? How do you cope with the inherent tensions of social entrepreneurship, a sector driven by the tricky double or triple line of profitability, social impact and effectiveness?
First, some perspective. Today’s business landscape looks fundamentally different than it did only two decades age. These days, practically all businesses have some kind of community outreach programs, blurring the line between the work and responsibilities of the non-profit and for-profit worlds. The strict dichotomy between these modes of thinking is dissipating before our eyes. (Take Global Engagement Summit, for instance. Until approximately two years ago, we presented ourselves as a force in “non-profit capacity building conference” — today, we gravitate much more towards the loose terms of “social entrepreneurship,” “international development,” and “social change.”)
This panel examined the new concept of the “social business,” a category conceptualized by microfinance expert Mohammad Yunus to encapsulated this new, and wildly popular, hybrid business model. As the panelists explained, the spectrum of organizational models now stretches as follows:
Traditional Non-Profit →
Non-Profit with Income Generating Activities →
Social Business →
For-Profit Socially Responsible Business →
The panelists explained how to apply a healthy knowledge of the for-profit sector towards a social good project, and thus achieve an extraordinary level of impact. A for-profit approach, for instance, may free do-gooders from the maddeningly inconsistent funding cycle of the non-profit world. For-profit thinking can also ease the process of scaling up (i.e. this business model can more easily transition from a partnership with 1,000 villagers to 10 million people, across languages and borders).
At the same time, the panel tackled myths in the field of social business. Scaling to a national level, for instance, is not only unnecessary in some cases, but can occasionally be deeply detrimental to an organization’s objectives. Work within cultures and communities you can wrap your mind around, the panelists advised, rather than insisting on taking on whole nations and regions of the world. Try to continually focus on “low-hanging fruit” – small-scale, simple ideas in which you can completely immerse yourself over the course of your career.
In wrapping up, the panelists looked towards the future. We’ll see success, panelist Jamie Jones said, when social responsibility is not just a program but an integrated part of all companies. Only when CEOs start to see social responsibility as a business opportunity – as Pepsi Co. recently did in its large-scale, historic investment in Mexican sunflower farmers – will we finally see true scale and social impact.