Calling all Social Entrepreneurs by Gia Machlin, June 22 2011, 1 Comment

Last weekend I went to my 30th high school reunion (yes, I'm that old).  I was blown away by how good everybody looked.  Earlier this spring, I went to my 20th business school reunion and I have to say that not everyone aged so well.  Why the difference?  Is there something in the water up in my hometown of Croton-on-Hudson that makes people age better?  My husband pointed out that the reason everyone looked so good was probably because the folks who didn't look so good decided not to come to the reunion. The whole point of a high school reunion, after all, is to show up and say "look how great I look and how well I am doing!"  The motivation behind attending a business school reunion, on the other hand, is likely networking and business opportunities - regardless of how you look.  So I'll venture to say there was a bit of self selection going on at the high school reunion.  What on earth does this have to do with anything??  Well it got me thinking; I wonder how much self selection is contributing to our environmental crisis?  At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, here's my theory:

Business and the for-profit world attract people who are motivated primarily by money.   Non-profits attract people who are motivated by making a difference and trying to change the world.  Business has more power that non-profits, so efforts to curb pollution, conserve our resources, and save the environment take a back seat to profit making ventures.  The government is led by politicians who are either also motivated by money, or seem to be so distracted by their secret sexcapades and scandals, that they can't effectively get anything done.  Sad state of affairs we are in.  Oceans are in crisis, climate change is upon us, landfills are overflowing, children's asthma rates are soaring, and cities are running out of fresh water.

So what do we do?  We change the face of business.  Those of us motivated by social good need to infiltrate the business world.  While social entrepreneurship is not brand new, it is still in its infancy.  When I went to business school 20 years ago, my choices for a "major" were: Finance, Marketing, and Management/Operations.  The "Social Enterprise" program is maybe 10 years old, if that.  There was no "Green Business Club" back then, and this was the first year that the Earth Institute at Columbia (my alma mater) offered a Masters in Sustainable Business Management.  This is our future, our hope, and our best bet for change.  I'm not saying that non-profits don't have their place, they are extremely important and play a crucial role in counterbalancing big business.  And so are those politicians who are fighting for change against the pressure from big oil and the powers that be.  But the more we marry business and social good, the better off we will be.  Kudos to pioneers like Gary Hirschberg of Stonyfield Farms and Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation. They have made incredible inroads as environmental activists and successful business leaders. They are my heroes.  But we need more folks like them to choose this path.  We need to realize that the most effective way to make change is by solving social crises with business solutions.  As those businesses succeed, their leaders with a conscience will hold more and more power in our society.  And we will have self selected our hope for change.

Here are a few of my favorite social ventures:

TerraCycle

RecycleBank

Wearable Collections

What's your favorite "Social Enterprise"?