How could a company help sustain a community if it couldn’t sustain itself? How could an organization create social value if it didn’t create the economic profit that it needs to survive, innovate, and grow? In order for a socially driven business to continue to do good, it must also do well.
Economic profits=social impact
I attended a panel discussion yesterday put on by ynpnaustin that addressed this very notion. Mason Arnold, founder and CEO of Greenling, Laurie Loew, founder and CEO of GiveRealty, and Jessica Shortall, Director of Giving for TOMS each expounded on the idea that in social enterprise, economic viability and social impact are inextricably linked.
No martyrdom needed, sustainability lives
Mr. Arnold, whose company delivers organic and sustainable food from local farmers to consumers in Austin, Texas, put it quite simply and eloquently. “Part of sustainability is us still being here tomorrow,” he said. He explained that in order to sustain yourself, you must run a competitive business. Recognizing the balance between doing good in the future and paying yourself today is key to any social venture’s success.
Innovate, grow, give, and prosper
TOMS has built a cult following on their iconic slipper-like shoes, but that wasn’t enough to keep them growing as a brand and as a philanthropic force. Mrs. Shortall told us that TOMS has really gotten serious about its own economic sustainability lately. By creating types of shoes that appeal to more people, and recently expanding into eyewear, the company has decided that it intends to simultaneously grow its business and its outreach…one for one.
Planting seeds for generations to come
Laurie Lowe looks at social enterprise from a different angle. She is a real estate agent and through her company, GiveRealty, she donates one fourth of all profits to the charity of the client’s choice. By making them choose where the money will go, she helps her clients realize the joy of charitable giving. Her hope is that they catch the “philanthropy bug” and continue to donate after their work together ends.
Creating value with values
This thought-provoking panel fostered the notion that furthering a social agenda is no longer solely the work of non-profits. “Non-profit” is essentially just a tax designation, they reminded us. If you have an idea for a company that can do good in the world while making money, go for it, and tell us about it! The more social enterprises there are that successfully create profits, the more good can get done.