I’ve been thinking about how I can help people for a long time. I can’t really say that I knew what I wanted to do growing up, but I knew that I wanted it to involve helping people in some way. At first, I went to Cornell with the same goal as every other asian, to some day become a doctor. As I studied, I realized that though I was interested in health, becoming a doctor wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do. There were other ways in which I could help people and I needed to explore them.
I knew that I was interested in business as well and started to take more business classes. Taking both health, international development, and business classes made me think about what it would look like to combine these things. There wasn’t a class on social innovation or social enterprises at the time at Cornell but I really wish there was.
Thinking about how we can best make an impact in our world, I really think that one of the best ways is through some sort of social enterprise.
What is a social enterprise?
A social enterprise is a for profit or could be non profit that matches some sort of environmental, social, or governance impact to a business model that provides financial returns. They go hand in hand. These entities can range from making less money to a lot of money, but the core business model has to be around making an impact in one of these three areas.
Why not a non profit or NGO?
Sure, you can have great programs run through non profits and NGOs, and a lot of social enterprises will get their funding from these sources, but I really believe in social enterprises because it pushes the entity to be self sustainable in the long run without donations. Why not make money, be sustainable, and have an impact all at the same time?! I really don’t believe it has to be either or.
Why make social impact through a business?
Not only are you able to provide value through providing jobs to people doing awesome work, but because it is a core part of the business, you will be motivated to make sure that it is a success. You will through the means of business help to scale the service or product you offer and make sure it gets to the masses because your own livelihood is based on it. There’s more involved when it’s your own skin in the game. Job creation is also one of the core foundations of ways that we can give people a helping hand.
What are some companies out there that are Social Enterprises?
If you want to get more information, social enterprises are definitely a growing class of companies. One organization called B Labs have helped to make a certification where companies can be certified B Corps through vetting them in their values, work, human rights, sustainability, etc. Some states have even started to make a new class of companies which you can apply as where your mission has to be a core part of your business and you have to make a certain amount of impact each year. You can search for a list of B Corp Companies here.
A classic is the Grameen Bank, started by Muhammad Yunus, which helps small businesses in India get on their feet with the financial help they needed with micro-finance loans. Loans that were too small or too risky for banks to make. They have become a success and have allowed thousands.
TOMS is a popular company that has the one for one model in which they sell shoes and give pairs away as well. You might disagree with how they operate or how well they achieve their goals, but it’s just an example.
Aid Through Trade is a company that sells bracelets made by women in Nepal to help their livelihood. They were also one of the founding members of the Fair Trade Federation.
There are tons of ways in which social enterprises can provide positive environmental, social, and governance impact on the world. I’m excited to continue to look into and share about these companies and organizations with you in the hopes that you’ll be interested in them too!