Remember the "good ol' days" when business was about business? Pretty straightforward: produce, profit, repeat.
This model was as effective as it was efficient. It made a few people rich and entire masses coming back for more.
But what if, as Deb Mills-Scofield points out in her post, "Every Business Is (Or Should Be) a Social Business" things are no longer "business as usual"?
The historical division between social and non-social business and "purpose" vs. "profits" is artificial and antiquated. Almost exactly two years ago, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer called for a new definition of capitalism -- "shared value" -- to unify this false choice. I think this is how Adam Smith envisioned capitalism; we just redefined it to serve our purposes. In fact, our financial crisis in part stems from non-social businesses divorcing impact from profit and the outcome will haunt us for a long time.
Mills-Scofield goes on to wonder how fully most appreciate the change we've gone through. What if, we've entered an age in which all businesses are social businesses?
I believe the distinction between social and non-social business is a false dichotomy. And yet, it's one we continually want to make. We talk about "social businesses" -- those that are mission-led and focused on creating positive social change -- and "non-social businesses" -- those that focus on revenue and profit.
When considering this, it makes all the sense in the world. What business doesn't have customers or employees? What would motivate a business to not consider its social impact?
Successful business concepts are those that best solve the needs of others. It takes a tremendous amount of empathy to truly understand others' needs -- and shift with them as their needs change. Creating solutions for others, even if it's for the purpose of turning a profit, is an immensely social undertaking.
Mills-Scofield points out:
If a business isn't providing valuable, meaningful solutions to real customers' problems or delivering outcomes that both make a positive difference in the customers' lives and support the company's mission, the business won't have to worry about profits or outputs for long. The market has a way of taking care of that.
Where all of this starts to get really exciting for the future of business and society, isn't asking "what's next?" It's asking: "what's now?"
You're probably familiar with businesses like Patagonia, Virgin, and TOMs Shoes that wear their social missions on their sleeves, but there's also a strong push in the startup world for entrepreneurs to work their social impact into their business model. 21 Toys, littleBits, Increment, Bella Minds and The Mosaic School are just a few examples of for-profit businesses propelled by social missions.
Fortunately, there are also sources of funding starting to sprout up to meet the need of seeding those committed to a social purpose along their path toward profit: FSG, New Profit Inc., the Centre for Social Innovation, and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse are just a few of the emergent leaders in fueling the future of social entrepreneurship.
By focusing on each individual business model element and the model's overall impact to create outputs that support sustainable outcomes, perhaps our social entrepreneurs can help society break down this tired, man-made wall between social and non-social businesses.
We're living in an age in which businesses don't just just fulfill our needs, they can also make us better.
We need more socially-minded entrepreneurs to push their ideas and passions forward. What if you take the leap into social entrepreneurship? Whether it's starting your own business or supporting other social entrepreneurs, we now have a shared responsibility to reward and encourage businesses brave enough to place a purpose before their profits.