Funny thing about entrepreneurs. They’re driven to do something great. Whether that’s creating the latest must have product or service, they’re passion is underpinned by their burning desire to change the world for the better. Yet, few of them see it as such until they look back at their achievements years later.
When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack worked tirelessly to create a computer that had an easy to use graphical interface, they didn’t realise they would change the world. Nor did Bill Gates when he focused on “getting a computer in every home.”
But the times have changed and people are waking up to the value that entrepreneurs produce whether that is job creation or just the transformation a new product or service can bring to the world (take the electric light and iPhone). So it comes as no surprise that there is a growing global movement of entrepreneurs who are trying to find solutions to world problems, through creating socially driven businesses. It makes total sense, because that’s what they do. Change the world one business at a time.
A Noble Cause
In America there is a burgeoning group of companies being initially created to solve a community crisis.
Take Cheeky Home. Started in 2014 to provide free meals to the millions of Americans who can’t afford to eat regular meals. Their first year netted $20 million in revenue by selling Target colourful and disposable tableware, resulting in 1 million meals being donated.
Then there is Warby Parker, a record-breaking fast growth company that designs and sells glasses online at fraction of the cost of traditional retailers. For every pair of glasses sold, another pair of glasses is provided to the charity, Vision Spring. The purpose of the business was to be scalable, but to be able to do good in the world, while also passing on substantial savings to customers.
Rising Tide was founded to provide jobs for those on the autism spectrum who traditionally struggle to find work. With around 50,000 autistic young people in the US entering the workforce each year, Rising Tide provides jobs for those with who function on the lower end of the autism scale with a job they enjoy – car washing. A range of other organisations are also being founded that provide repetitive jobs with a need for detail that is perfectly suited for some of those with autism.
But it’s not just creating a company that’s tied to a social mission that’s helping to improve the world.
In the US, there is a growing trend of powerful CEOs speaking out passionately about social issues. Howard Schulz, the CEO at Starbucks is bravely embracing issues that most CEOs won’t touch such as traffic congestion, racial discrimination and guns. Given that the stock has returned about 30% over the past year, he is proving that big business and social causes can work together. Even Tim Cook, the Apple CEO has spoken about gay marriage, while Mark Mertolini the CEO of Aetna has discussed the importance of boosting the minimum wage.
Making the Unseen Seen
The great Napoleon Hill once said:
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”
Entrepreneurs by their very nature are able to turn intangible thoughts into something tangible.
At the funeral of Steve Jobs, his wife Laurene Powell Jobs said “It is hard enough to see what is already there, to remove the many impediments to a clear view of reality, but Steve’s gift was even greater; he saw clearly what was not there, what could be there, what had to be there. His mind was never a captive of reality. Quite the contrary. He imagined what reality lacked, and he set out to remedy it. His ideas were not arguments but intuitions, born of a true inner freedom. For this reason, he possessed an uncannily large sense of possibility.”
In this day and age, where not-for-profits struggle to attract donations and millions of people around the world starve and suffer from curable disease, it makes sense that if we are to improve our world, we need entrepreneurs who can envision the future and turn it into reality. Perhaps, we need to start solving our social issues with the help of awakened entrepreneurs who see things differently and who know how to enlist others to join their cause. There will always be more money in the corporate world than in philanthropy. And it’s more likely that innovative solutions to our world problems will arise from a business perspective rather than a charitable one.
Unfortunately, many of those who wish to solve world problems feel concerned about businesses getting involved. Who can blame them? In the past, greedy and unethical organisations such as Enron and Lehman Brothers, had leaders operating in the context of taking from society, rather than contributing.
Now, society is starting to take a stand against such behaviours. Leaders lacking integrity find they can no longer scale their organisation so easily and the old ways of doing business are creating their demise.
Out of the ashes from the GFC, a new kind of business and business leader is emerging that can re-imagine the world as a source of good, rather than send global markets crashing, produce human rights atrocities or create environmental catastrophes.
And it’s about time. Because surely isn’t that what business is about? To create a product or service that improves people’s lives and provides jobs that give people meaning, autonomy and a sense of achievement.
Imagine the possibilities if business was all about creating community good? Where scientists and inventors can create life-saving jobs and equipment that helps humanity rather than being used to hurt or injure. And where human life is more important than excessive profits.
Well, the good news is, that we are now at the start of a golden age of human collaboration and co-operation. And it’s time for more entrepreneurs to transform their forward-thinking visions of how to help the world into reality.