As recent as ten years ago, terms like, “renewable,” “fair trade,” and “sustainability” were considered the vocabulary of the fringe. These words were uttered mostly by those some referred to as “tree huggers” and “granolas,” and “real” entrepreneurs were more concerned with making some cold hard cash than with making a difference. That’s not to say business was completely self-centered. The largest percentage of charitable donations always came from business, and for years many companies have included as part of their mission to make a difference in the world. Still, the emphasis on making the world a better place for all to live, while we build our businesses, has only recently shifted.
These days, you’re as likely to catch a CEO talking about corporate or social responsibility as the bottom line. No one can pinpoint for sure why this shift has taken place, but it might have something to do with so many young idealists starting companies that have become huge corporations. Not long ago the most prominent companies were all run by 60-somethings who prided themselves in doing business the old fashioned way. Now, even though the Fortune 500 hasn’t changed much, the companies getting the largest chunk of the media attention (at least positive media attention) were started by people in their 20s and 30s.
What is socially responsible entrepreneurialism?
Whatever the reason, social responsibility in business is here now, and it’s growing. But what exactly does it mean to be a socially responsible entrepreneur? The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship defines social entrepreneurs as “Those who drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment, and enterprise development.” In other words, a social entrepreneur is someone who takes actions to make the world a better place while building their business. Does that mean your business has to be about green energy or saving endangered species? No, socially responsible entrepreneurs don’t necessarily devote their business to causes. Being a socially responsible entrepreneur is about doing what your business does best, and considering other factors, such as the environment, poverty, or social equality when making business decisions.
3 Steps You Can Take to be a Social Entrepreneur
1. Green it up. Even if you’re a home-based CEO, there are simple steps you can take to help the environment. The easiest and most obvious is recycling. Nearly every city has some sort of recycling program for your paper, cardboard, glass, and metal waste, but you can go a step further. Rather than throwing that draft print job in the recycling bin, why not use it as scratch paper, and then toss it to the recyclers once it’s really used up? Also, consider switching to more energy efficient light bulbs, and buying recycled paper. For more tips for a green home office, click here. Any change you make will help to make a difference, and those changes that save energy or reuse materials will save you some money as well.
2. Give it away. Time to replace that old printer, copier, or PC? Don’t just throw it out. If it still works or just needs some TLC, there are definitely organizations in your community that can use it. Check out the National Christina Foundation or TechSoup Stock to find out how to donate your electronics to a good cause. If you have a company with several employees, consider holding a food or clothing drive a couple of times a year. It’s not just during the holidays when people are in need. Local charities are always happy to take your donations.
3. Pick a cause. As an entrepreneur, you know it’s important to focus on what you’re most passionate about. The same is true when it comes to doing good. Pick a topic within the realm of social responsibility that appeals to you, and concentrate your efforts on making a difference in that area. Of course if the area you choose is saving the rainforest, you’ll still recycle, but your primary focus will be on rainforest conservation efforts and the charities that support that. If it’s the environment, that might mean reducing your carbon footprint by 30% and going paperless within 12 months. If your heart is pulled toward undernourished children, it might mean donating 5% of your profits to a charity of that kind and sponsoring a city-wide food drive for them every year. When you choose a single cause and do a good job of supporting it, your company becomes linked to that cause, and your customers and potential customers see that. So it’s good for business, as well as good for the soul.
While we all like to make money, finding meaning and fulfillment in our lives is a universal need, and one many entrepreneurs hope to satisfy through starting a business. Becoming a socially responsible entrepreneur helps us to do both. When we’re doing what we love, making money, and helping to make the world a better place to live, what more can there be?