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We are all social entrepreneurs

The following is an edited excerpt from "Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business" by Ross Stoddard (Elevate Publishing, 2017).

There’s much to be hopeful about in the rise of socially conscious companies around the world.

And it’s not just my generally sunny optimism; this trend is backed by substantive statistics.

The first public benefit corporation legislation in the United States was passed in Maryland in 2010. Today, there are more than 4,000 public benefit corporations in this country.

The nonprofit B Lab certified its first B Corps in 2007. By the time my firm, Oliver Russell, was certified in January 2012, there were 299 B Corps in the world. By mid-2017, the number of B Corps globally increased to more than 2,100 companies. While this is still a small community, this growth rate demonstrates an accelerating trajectory that harbors good things for the future of social impact.

Perhaps the strongest validation for this movement comes from financial investors funneling more money into companies specifically because they deliver positive social and environmental impact alongside profit. In 2015, a study of 126 institutions by the Global Impact Investing Network showed that this group had made more than $15 billion in impact investments in 2015 — and planned to increase this amount by 16 percent in 2016.1

Partnerships with purpose 

On the ground, exciting events are taking place. In 2016, Patagonia committed to donating all its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups. It registered $10 million in sales that day, more than three times the previous year’s Black Friday totals. This not only provided necessary fuel for local nonprofits, it demonstrated this approach is a huge motivation for the consumers who rang up that record sales day.

Patagonia committed to donating all its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups. It registered ... more than three times the previous year’s Black Friday totals.

Exciting partnerships are taking place between like-minded, socially conscious companies. Ben & Jerry’s partnered with New Belgium Brewing to collaborate on two new beers (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale and Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, in case you’re thirsty). By joining forces to create new products, they leveraged two powerful brand names and customer followings to increase sales and awareness for socially conscious businesses.

Internationally, organizations such as B1G1, an online giving platform for small businesses, are successfully building communities with thousands of business members demonstrating that the act of giving back is good for the world — and good for business.

Come to the aid of your country

"Now is the time for all good social entrepreneurs to come to the aid of their country."

I don’t know why, but this phrase from long ago came into my mind lately, and it stuck. It’s a slight riff on a quote often mistakenly attributed to the American patriot Patrick Henry. In reality, however, it was the work of an instructor who came up with it as a typing drill way back in 1867.

Indeed, now is the time for all good social entrepreneurs to come to the aid of their country, and when I say country, I don’t mean sovereign nation — I mean the world. As in the time is now not only to do good, but also to look at the world as if it were your country.

And when I say social entrepreneur, friend, I’m not limiting the universe to businesspeople. I mean you. I mean all of us.

While there is a lot of talent and capital directed toward using business to make positive social and environmental change, I’m feeling a heightened sense of urgency.

Now, more than ever, we need to foster people using business for a higher purpose. We need to create businesses dedicated to providing public benefit along with bottom-line financial profit.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to start or own a business to participate. There’s a broader definition of the name "social entrepreneur" that includes each of us.

How you spend your money matters

Let me start by saying money isn’t everything — but it is the thing I’m going to talk about here.

Where and how we spend our money matters. In a way, you cast your vote at the cash register or the e-commerce checkout. You’re buying a product, but you’re also voting for the company that produces it.

Taken together with the purchases of other like-minded shoppers who are driven by purpose, consumer spending provides the energy for social impact and a refashioning of the corporate charter. While none of us has billions of dollars or employs legions of lobbyists, it turns out each of us can use our resources to change the way the world works. No matter how small.

Look for third-party certifications when you’re making a purchase. While there’s not yet a unified symbol for corporate social impact and behavior, there are a number of certifications that can be helpful in guiding your purchasing decisions.

And when I say social entrepreneur, friend, I’m not limiting the universe to businesspeople. I mean you. I mean all of us.

Refashion your purchasing as an opportunity to become your own sleuth and explore a company’s policies and behavior. Now, I know you’re busy and convenience is part of the value equation, but you can find many compelling companies and stories if you take a moment to search a little bit. 

For instance, if you’re thinking about a pair of women’s work pants from Carhartt, take just a moment in your search and you may discover a company like Red Ants Pants — one that gets rave reviews for the durability and fit of its products and has an intentional mission to develop and expand leadership roles for women, preserve and support working family farms and ranches, and enrich and promote rural communities. They’re a "human" brand, one with flesh and bones and emotion and real-world impact. That’s a recipe for a more meaningful purchase.

Online tools for ethical options

Seek out online tools to assist you in your effort. For instance, a new tool recently arrived on the scene that can help you make ethical purchasing decisions. DoneGood3 creates a browser extension for Chrome that makes it easier to discover businesses on a mission to improve the world. When you’re shopping online, the DoneGood extension alerts you to ethical, sustainable companies offering similar products to what you’re currently shopping. Pretty easy, pretty sweet.

The point here is yes, this type of shopping takes more time; not much, but some, though you’ll be enriched for your minimal efforts by finding companies and products that are generative — they produce more positive energy than they consume (energy here being a metaphor). When you intentionally spend your money with a social enterprise, you become, by extension, a social entrepreneur. And that feels pretty good.

Where we work matters

Like they say, time is money. We live in a world of limited resources, and the most precious resource you have is, well, you.

So if you want to change the world, why not put your shoulder to the wheel at a company actively working to solve social and environmental problems through its products, services or business model? You’ve got gifts that are uniquely your own — perspective, skills, experience, passion and talent!

Traditionally, you’d accomplish this by working for a nonprofit organization, which is a satisfying way to invest in your work life. But now you have the option of achieving similar outcomes in the for-profit world by working for a social enterprise.

Sure, changing jobs isn’t as easy as flipping the switch on your everyday spending. But there are increasingly numerous opportunities to spend your workdays creating impact and leaving your job at day’s end feeling that you are contributing to a solution rather than being part of the problem. From personal experience and the anecdotes of others, I can tell you this brings a completely new sense of meaning to the half of your waking day you spend working.

You’ll need to make a plan and start by researching the types of jobs that are available. Here are several resources that can help you in your search. There are many resources out there, such as Rework and NextBillion.

A challenge to my fellow social entrepreneurs

I’d like to also offer a challenge to my fellow social enterprises.

Your purchasing department has an unsung, indirect, yet immensely powerful role to play in creating social change. As social entrepreneurs, we need to be every bit the conscious consumer as the discerning millennial when considering business purchases.

And here’s why: Our business purchasing can foster significant change by investing our mission-driven dollars with other mission-driven businesses. 

Here are a few questions to consider. Do you have other social enterprises on your purchasing roster? Are you including local suppliers in the equation? If not — why? You’ll find that with minimally more assessment and effort — really a little bit of thought is all it takes — you can employ your purchasing to leverage a powerful economic multiplier, funneling your supply-chain spending to other social enterprises and purpose-driven companies.

Our business purchasing can foster significant change by investing our mission-driven dollars with other mission-driven businesses.

Perhaps it’s easier to think of yourself as a venture capitalist or an impact investor — when you are purchasing on behalf of your business, you are making small investments in other businesses, playing an important part in a virtuous cycle with tremendous impact.

If all else is equal (price, quality, service, convenience, which often are at relative parity), this should be an easy choice. Make it and you’ll achieve three objectives: You’ll provide much-needed fuel for a kindred company; open doors to creative collaborations, partnerships, and reciprocal spending; and offer a strong statement of moral support to another social entrepreneur.

Our time is now

We’ve been banding together for security and socialization since humans first roamed the earth. Now is the time for each of us, as social entrepreneurs and as conscious consumers, to roll up our sleeves and our spending, along with our voices, into a force that generates more positive energy in the world.

All of this requires some thought, but not that much. It takes shifts in behavior, which is tougher, but not like putting a rocket into space. It can all come to pass through our own individual and collective commitments, and it’s these small, daily actions of thousands of businesses and millions of individuals that can change and save our world.

That’s what it will take — simply a realization that we are all social entrepreneurs.

So rise up, people, rise up.

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