I am a social entrepreneur. I believe that for-profit business models will solve the world’s problems faster, more efficiently, and more sustainability than purely non-profit efforts. Taken a step further, I believe true business cares about its environment and its community as well as its net income and that by caring, I earn a greater return for myself and my stakeholders than if I focused on maximizing monetary return alone.
But how did I get here?
Let me set the stage: I was about 6 years old at one of those mid-week Bible study groups for kids and we were having a special guest. A missionary to Africa had returned and wanted to share his stories with us. The lights were turned off and the rotating slide projector was set up. If your first thought here is “WTF?” then just think of it as your photo album projected onto a real wall, not your Facebook wall.
As the images clicked into place, the missionary filled in the gaps with descriptions of all the scenes. Some were painful to watch, even for a six year old, and I instinctively knew that these people needed my help. I swore right there that I would move to a foreign country and give myself over to working with the poor. I had visions of a vast pilgrimage, shoulder to shoulder with Mother Theresa, of thousands of needy saved by my work. Aaaand back to reality.
Flash forward and I’m graduating from college with two degrees in computer science and accounting; not quite necessary skills for assisting the third world. So I started a business or two, worked as an accountant in mergers & acquisitions, and helped out a few startups but rapidly found the work unfulfilling. Time to do a little soul searching.
After a long walk and internal monologue (the kind that’s great in books and boring in movies), I resigned myself to making a ton of money doing what I was good at (but wasn’t fulfilling) so I could spend that money doing what I knew I should. And that’s when I met a bunch of other business leaders just like me. Turns out a lot of us struggle with what has become an outright war between doing business and doing good. Somehow the missionaries, governments, and non-profits are the only organizations capable of serving the needy. Somehow businessmen are vilified for seeking profit, but those same governments and non-profits wouldn’t exist without our contributions.
I went looking for an answer and after an interesting turn of events (enough for a different story), joined the founders of The Paradigm Project to help build a stereotype-busting business model that earns a competitive return for investors while radically changing lives and environments for the better. Our goal is to earn profit from the poor, for the poor, and to help them earn a profit too. Throw in a giant leap in clean cookstove technology and we’re saving their lives, improving their daily experience, and reducing deforestation.
It turns out my skills fit perfectly into this business as I’m building complex financial models, developing new marketing plans, raising capital from investors and foundations, and negotiating partnership agreements just like any other startup. Rather than sacrificing my skills for the sake of doing good, my work at The Paradigm Project has stretched me in new ways and demanded even more from me. And now I have no reservations about pouring my heart into my work.
That is why I am a social entrepreneur and, honestly, I think you should be too.