Looking to make a positive impact along with a profit? Learn about social entrepreneurship from this group of diverse and experienced social entrepreneurs, who talk about their experiences running businesses that make profits and benefit their surrounding communities in a GIST TechConnect program on turning a profit while doing good.
- Mike Ravenscroft (Moderator), Program Director of C5 Capital
- Fonta Gilliam, Founder of Sou Sou
- Gideon Taub, Founder and CEO of Pinkaloo Technologies
- Laila Akel, Co-founder and COO of RedCrow
But first: What is social entrepreneurship?
Gideon: Social entrepreneurship is solving a problem and creating value. Through that value, the entrepreneur generates a profit while at the same time making an impact in communities the company operates in and serves. This is a win-win for both the company and the community.
Laila: It is about finding a way to address an issue that the community or society suffers from while including them in the solution. Having contributions from the individuals you serve helps to establish a sense of belonging and helps to make the change from within the community itself.
For example, Fonta’s company Sou Sou manages a network of banks and community lenders that invest in high-quality startups and small businesses. She helps underfunded businesses succeed through a global crowd-banking network that allows entrepreneurs to expand their businesses themselves. The mobile app gives entrepreneurs a new option to fund their companies that, in turn, creates new jobs and helps disadvantaged communities.
Another example is Gideon’s Pinkaloo Technologies, which empowers users with tools for budgeting for charitable giving by helping connect individual donors with local organizations whose values match their own. His solution helps individuals to engage with their philanthropy and “to give back more proactively, as opposed to reactively.”
Gideon shares three ways that companies can relate social impact to their businesses:
- Companies can build impact into their business model by donating profits to causes that align with their mission. One example of this is the shoe company TOMS. With the motto “One for One,” the company donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair of shoes sold.
- Companies can make an impact by offering products and services that are designed with social good in mind, i.e., helping individuals, companies or charities more effectively fundraise and direct resources to charitable causes. The company GoFundMe enables individuals to crowdfund philanthropic projects and has encountered a lot of success in the past few years.
- Companies can also address larger causes through the design of their products and services. One well-known example is Tesla, a company that designs and manufactures all-electric cars, thereby reducing carbon emissions and reliance on gas while producing an amazing vehicle.
How do you find a balance between earning a profit and seeking a positive impact on your communities?
Fonta: The reality is when you are focused not just on making money but also on helping communities, it can be harder than focusing just on making a profit alone. What we try to do to maintain that balance [at Sou Sou] is embed our social mission into our business model and stay proactive by working with partners and customers that have the same mission. This helps us to amplify our efforts and create a like-minded ecosystem that we can do business within. As long as you keep your vision and ask yourself, “Is this helping people? Is this empowering people?” you should maintain the balance effectively.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who is making an impact but struggling to generate a profit at a sustainable rate?
Laila: I’d advise them to get out of their comfort zone. We tend to stay within our circles, people who understand our circles, and we find it difficult to venture into people who don’t know the market nor understand the problem and solution very well. These people may effect a bigger change by just spreading the word. You may need to talk to them differently because they don’t really understand the big picture. For example, for RedCrow we spoke with investors who didn’t know what it was like to operate in the Middle East or in war-torn areas. It helps you to see the problem from a different point of view.
Most importantly, a positive attitude and focus are important elements in successfully implementing social entrepreneurship into a business model. As tennis star Venus Williams affirms, “I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals, and I try to ignore the rest.”
Looking for a way to fulfill this advice through your own business? Check out the YLAI Network’s online courses on Servant Leadership and Design Driven Entrepreneurship (también en español), which provide entrepreneurs with educational and motivational tools and advice.