A New Way To Build: Creating 21st Century Social Enterprises

Historically, if you wanted to do good in the world, you gave a tax-deductible donation to a charity or volunteered your time with a non-profit. If you wanted to make money, you worked 24/7 in a corporate role or launched a business with low overheads, high margins and very little regard for your social conscience. To date, entrepreneurs have been faced with a false choice of doing good or making money, but why can't you do both? Why can't you create a business that contributes to the social good and turns a profit as well? Why can't business be created that are driven by their values, delivering value to their stakeholders and exchanging values with those stakeholders to ensure sustainability? The answer is you can. It is possible to build an enterprise that does both, one that bridges the worlds of "doing good" and "turning a profit."

The excess of the 90ʼs, the changing state of our world and the fragility of the global economy has seen a huge shift towards the creation of businesses that are able to attack the challenges of poverty, education, environment and health in innovative and sustainable ways. A new era of social entrepreneurship has been born. It had to be. Entrepreneurs interested in social innovation are developing well thought-out solutions to the world's problems and using sophisticated business practices to ensure their profitability as well. From turning businesses into B corporations (the highest standard for socially responsible businesses) to creating enterprises that bring value to the lives of their stakeholders through the product they create as well as the profit they deliver, social enterprises are growing in number and size.

Enterprises such as One Lemon and Yellow Leaf Hammocks are prime examples of sustainable businesses that bring value to the world. Both these businesses are able to attack the challenges of poverty, education, environment and health in innovative and sustainable ways. One Lemon is a textile company that sources their products through a non-profit in India that employs 500 women. The women hand-embroider the goods from home, enabling them to earn a living and take care of their children. This enables their children to go to school, addressing systemic issues of education. One Lemon contributes to a model that empowers women, children and over time an entire community.

Similarly, Yellow Leaf Hammocks provides support and sustainability to a Hill Tribe in Thailand that was almost decimated by deforestation and disease by selling hand-woven hammocks. Yellow Leaf employed sophisticated business practices such as comprehensive business planning, competitor analysis, sales research and crowd-funding to launch the business and make it sustainable. From making just one hammock a weaver can earn what they and their entire family would earn in a month clearing forestland. This income also enables their children who formerly would be working next to them, to go to school and get an education. These enterprises are prime examples of how entrepreneurs can rethink the corporate landscape and make a difference in the world whilst also turning a profit.


Alexandra Pyke is a Business Development and Investment partner at the ITO Partnership and hosted an event called "A New Way to Build Women Creating 21st Century Social Enterprise" on June 18, 2012 during S.H.E. Summit Week. S.H.E. Summit Week, taking place June 18-24, is New York City's first "women's week," with 35+ events designed for, by and about women to inspire each other in work, life & everything in between. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit shesummitweek.com.