I've just returned from Chicago where I spend 3 days networking with, and learning from, people who are in the business of creating social change.
It was the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 19, a bi-annual gathering of do-gooders where ideas are exchanged, connections are made, partnerships are forged, energy is high and commitment to using the power of ethical business to solve social and economic problems is renewed.
It has become more and more clear over the last several years that we cannot depend on government to solve the plethora of social issues that are prevalent around the world. To really solve these difficult problems we need the best thinkers and dreamers and "make it happen" type people. They were out in force at Summit 19 and I think we all left feeling motivated to do what we do just a little bit better.
According to the Social Enterprise Alliance a Social Enterprise is "An organization that addresses a basic unmet need or solves a social or environmental problem through a market driven approach."
Social enterprises span the spectrum of nonprofit organizations to for profit companies but tend to fall within 3 categories:
1. Opportunity Employment - Companies and organizations that employ people who have significant barriers to mainstream employment. Many times these organizations are producing products that are then sold to the public as continued funding for the program. Examples include: Thistle Farms, Better Life Bags and Greystone Bakery
2. Transformative Products or Services - Companies and organizations that create social or environmental impact through the sale of ethical products or innovative services. Examples include: Soles4Souls, Buy The Change and Ablemade
3. Donate Back - Companies and Organizations that donate a portion of profits back to nonprofits focused on specific goals or follow a "buy one, give one" model. Examples include: Tom's Shoes, Warby Parker and Everly.
Buy The Change falls into all three of these catagories. We use the sale of ethical handmade products to create jobs for women around the globe. We also donate a portion of profits to our non-profit The Buy The Change Foundation which distributes the funds back to women through grants and micro loans.
I believe in having the big picture, analyzing the problem and creating plans for long term solutions. But... talking about a problem doesn't solve it. That's why I also believe in grassroots intervention, action based programs that jump in and adjust as they go. Problems that will take generations to solve are made up of individual people and families that need to eat today.