For Love or Money?
VIEWPOINT April 3, 2009, 3:00PM EST
For Love or Money
Is forming a nonprofit the way to solve social ills, or is it more efficient for business to do it?
President and CEO
National Council of Nonprofits
As a nonprofit you have an opportunity to get foundation dollars. Foundations are required to spend at least 5% of their assets every year on either internal operations or contributions to nonprofits. But with asset values down so much, it's becoming harder to get funding.
Sometimes there's no direct link between the issue and a sustainable business model. Take human rights in China, for example. I don't see a way to take that on through a for-profit model. Whereas I can see setting up a nonprofit where you get a foundation and some individuals to invest their dollars knowing they will not get a [monetary] return on it.
As a nonprofit you have the ability to wear the white hat. I started a nonprofit center on leadership ethics and public service. If it had been a for-profit consulting firm or law firm, there may have been pressure to give the client the answer they want instead of the right answer.
WILLIAM FULBRIGHT FOOTE
Founder and CEO
Root Capital, a nonprofit investment fund
If you can use a for-profit model, you should. There's going to be a Darwinian flush on the nonprofit side as the financial meltdown causes funding to be reduced. So if you don't have to be out with your hat in hand, you are in a better position.
Business has the ability to scale. If you can bring the engine of business and real capital to bear, you can really move the needle. You can unlock billions and even trillions of dollars to address problems that are so huge. There just isn't that kind of money in the philanthropic world.
You have to be a starry-eyed romantic to think you won't have the dilemma of profit vs. the public good [if you use the for-profit model]. But the answer is to build awareness so that you have real consumer demand and shareholder pressure for ethical sourcing and environmentally responsible production.
—As told to Amy Barrett
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS April 3, 2009, 3:00PM EST
Making a Profit and a Difference aren't mutually exclusive. Five entrepreneurs show how it's done
As the economy reels, enterprising individuals who apply business practices to solving societal problems are gaining support from public and private sectors
By Stacy Perman
Social entrepreneurs—enterprising individuals who apply business practices to solving societal problems, such as pollution, poor nutrition, and poverty—are now 30,000 strong and growing, according to B Lab, a nonprofit organization that certifies these purpose-driven companies. Together, they represent some $40 billion in revenue.
The idea of blending a social mission with business is not new. One of the founding forces behind the movement, the Ashoka Foundation, since its inception 1981 has granted multiyear living stipends to support more than 2,000 fellows dedicated to finding answers to a host of social ills through business ventures. Indeed, the concept of building a profitable business model in which doing good is an intrinsic part of the business and not just a philanthropic sideline has been gaining ground in recent years. Sally Osberg, president and chief executive of the Skoll Foundation in Palo Alto, Calif., another guiding force within the social venture community, says the number of institutes, universities, and organizations that are now tapping into social entrepreneurship has mushroomed since former eBay (EBAY) President Jeff Skoll established the foundation in 1999.
Now, as the economy reels, both the government and the private sector are looking for inventive ways to bring back prosperity, and many are counting on these entrepreneurs as a powerful tool for change. "Social entrepreneurship correlates to this growing realization that entrepreneurs are the key to a vibrant economy and to solutions that are badly needed," says Osberg. It's not all pie in the sky, says Bo Fishback, vice-president for entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. "Many social entrepreneurs have shown they can accomplish their mission," he says. "They can deliver on the social good and report a cash flow."
Not surprising, then, that they've caught the attention of such venture capitalists as those at Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that invests in companies that try to alleviate poverty, and Bay Area Equity Fund, which backs businesses aiming to make social or environmental improvements to San Francisco's needier neighborhoods. (See these additional resources for entrepreneurs seeking funding sources that back social ventures.) President Obama has even suggested starting a new government agency to help socially conscious startups gain more access to venture capital.
WHO YOU LIKE BEST
In January, we asked readers, staffers, and members of the social venture community to nominate candidates whose trailblazing companies, in operation for at least a year, aimed to turn a profit while tackling social ills. The 200-plus nominations we received included such entrepreneurs as Alex Mittal, whose Philadelphia-based Innova Materials makes antimicrobial products for private industry, then uses revenues from these efforts to develop water purification systems for the developing world. Kirsten Tobey and Kristin Richmond, founders of Revolution Foods, deliver nutritious lunches to more than 100 schools (that's 20,000 meals a day) in low-income areas in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Rachel Sterne, another social entrepreneur, encourages those living under repressive regimes to post their own reportage at her profit-sharing Web site, Groundreport.com. You can take a look at each of the 25 ventures we profiled in our slide show, then vote for the business you feel holds the most promise.
Some attribute social models pioneered by small outfits to the social responsibility efforts espoused by large corporations. For instance, about three years ago, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), the world's biggest retailer, launched a program to promote sustainability, urging its many vendors to produce ecofriendly products while encouraging its consumers to buy them. General Electric (GE) made its green mark manufacturing high-efficiency incandescent light bulbs, and such manufacturing giants as Clorox (CLX) have begun to roll out their own lines of "green" cleaning products. In March, Cadbury (CBY), manufacturer of England's top-selling chocolate bar, announced a deal to use 15,000 tons of Fair Trade certified cocoa from Ghana by the end of this summer for its popular Dairy Milk bar. The company said the move would improve the standard of living of thousands of Ghanaians by tripling the sales of cocoa farmers there.
One of this year's finalists, Daniel Lubetzky, founder of $25 million Peaceworks, which works as a catalyst for peace by encouraging joint snack-food ventures among people of different backgrounds in volatile regions around the world, says it is not enough to impose an artificial business model on a social issue. Lubetzky, who was awarded a $1 million grant from the Skoll Foundation in 2008, says that doing good alone will not ensure success. "I had an earlier company that totally tanked," he says. "I didn't understand the product line well, but I was passionate about the mission. The failure taught me that one can't advance a social mission if the business model doesn't sell. You can't just sell a social mission. You still have to come up with the best product with the best prices." Given the current economic climate, that rings particularly true.
For a look at all 25 businesses, flip through this slide show. More elements of this special report are available here.
Perman is a staff writer for BusinessWeek in New York.