January 31, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
How do you do “good” while sustaining yourself? There has been a lot of recent talk about social entrepreneurship and doing good while making profit for the organization. In this new, emerging field it is difficult to distinguish what percent should be committed to making a profit and what percent should be aimed at eradicating the social issue. In order to be sustainable the company must have revenue of some sort, but the question is just how much?
We are human, and cannot deny our innate competitive instincts that often drive us to put ourselves above our passion or cause. We perpetuate this idea that you should only give when you have a surplus of time, energy, money or alternative resources. But, what if we chose to see the world as a collective effort to better life for everyone around the world? What if every time we did something to help ourselves, we did something to help someone else?
I am currently caught between two worlds. Being an International Relations major, my studies of international security tell me that the only way to survive in the world is to serve your own self-interest. In this world, power is zero sum and there is no agreement that is mutually beneficial. In this world, someone always wins and someone always loses. It is a fact and one of the widely accepted tenants of international relations theory.
The other half of my heart is community engagement, service and collective betterment. In this world, you only engage in negotiations or trades that are mutually beneficial for both parties. Here, you are expected to be pro-social and you often deny your innately competitive nature to serve the collective good of society. You do not exploit the lower tier of society, but rather act from a place where everyone has the potential to benefit. There is great risk, but also great potential for reward.
How do you combine these worlds? I imagine this is a question that businessmen and women, politicians, theorists, academics, and others deal with. What causes someone to be socially conscious? Is it their upbringing and the environment in which they live? Is it life experience or exposure? Are socially conscious people simply anomalies? I don’t think so.
Social entrepreneurship is the bridge between these worlds. You can better yourself and your company, but you can also better society and the world. Think about it this way; if I were to give you one million dollars without any stipulations, you would take it without hesitation. But, if I gave you the opportunity to take a million dollars conditional upon the fact that I would match your one million with another one million you would have to give someone in need, you’d likely take it as well. The only sacrifice to you is the effort you would exert to administer those million dollars to an impoverished community. That is social entrepreneurship; giving to others, while providing for yourself. The model sustains itself while attacking the root of the social issue; what’s not to love?
This emerging field gives me hope that someday these two worlds might meet. There is great opportunity for us to move forward both personally and as a society, but it takes a commitment on our part to innovate, inspire and create.