School Without Walls Senior High School
2nd Place, District of Columbia
Which will do more to improve life in the United States over the next decade, business entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs? Why?
It was a dark and stormy afternoon. My family huddled in a cabin on Monhegan Island, Maine. We read to the drip of pots catching water falling from the ceiling. Through the storm came a knock on the back door. My father answered, and in came, with no warning, Robin Chase, the cofounder of ZipCar. She was an old acquaintance of my mother’s from Wellesley, and was staying in a house near Duck Pond up the road. My mother made her tea, and she sat down to chat. After an appropriate amount of small talk, the conversation drifted to ZipCar. She lit up as she described the car sharing company that provides cars on the go with the goal to reduce road congestion and make transportation inexpensive and sustainable for those who cannot afford a car or who do not need a fulltime vehicle. As she explained the business model, I got the sense that money was not driving her. Instead it was her dedication towards changing the way transportation functions. Robin Chase embodies the spirit of the social entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur sees a gap – in the world, in the market, in society, in the environment, etc. – and sets out to fill that gap innovatively. While definitions vary, a social entrepreneur is someone whose goals and passions lie in making a long-term social difference, whereas a business entrepreneur's goal is to maximize profits. Is it a black and white categorization? Absolutely not, social entrepreneurs still need to make money to continue their businesses and business entrepreneurs could produce a product that changes lives, say a blood filtration system. There is a gray space left up to interpretation, and clarification comes from the entrepreneur’s commitment to his or her cause.
This is expressed in the idea of the double bottom line – the idea that defines the social entrepreneur. Social enterprises work towards two goals: one, sustaining a business, and two, making a social difference. The double bottom line is what sets the social entrepreneur apart, and is what will make them the better catalyst for improving life in the United States over the next decade – through their values, commitment to workers, wealth creation, and measurement of success.
In an interview with Forbes, Robin Chase remarked, “I see a real movement afoot to change the status quo in ways that move us towards a more sustainable, equitable, open, cooperative, and friendly world” (Kanani). The social entrepreneur has a clear mission based on his or her values. Chase values a sustainable, cooperative, fair world, and so built her company on those goals. Because of this clear definition of one’s values, a social entrepreneur makes decisions based on whether or not projects or undertakings support the mission, creating dedicated, succinct organizations.
The social entrepreneur builds an enterprise around consciously making his or her influence positive. Value “lies in the social benefit to a community or transformation of a community that lacks the resources to fulfill its own needs” (Uhlig). For example, Toms’ “One for One” campaign gives one pair of shoes to charity for every pair purchased. While this does not maximize profits, it maximizes the company’s dedication to improving lives. On the other hand, a business entrepreneur tries to maximize profit and may therefore discount environmental or community impacts.
Our close family friends, Pat Hanscom and Rolf Sartorius, founded the company Social Impact. Social Impact “create[s] dramatic improvements in the performance of organizations and programs working to enhance the social and economic wellbeing of people around the world” (About Us). In a telephone “interview” they stressed the importance of the worker in the company. At Social Impact, workers are more than the profit they bring in. Their value, and often their dedication, comes because of their ability to support the company’s mission. This leads to more dedicated workers who are committed to a cause rather than to chasing a dollar. Pat remarked, “You get more out of a worker who is dedicated to the cause.” Social enterprises attract people with a passion, thus creating a passionate organization. While the same can sometimes be said for a business enterprise, workers there are generally not characterized by a dedication to a common social mission.
Both business and social entrepreneurs make wealth in society, employ people, and innovate. However, business entrepreneurs maximize wealth for themselves or for shareholders. To the social entrepreneur, “wealth creation is necessary, but not for [his or her] own sake. Rather, wealth is simply a tool the entrepreneur uses to effect social change. The degree to which minds are changed, suffering is alleviated or injustice is reversed represents the organization's success” (Uhlig). Wealth is used to further the social mission, which leads to the success of the enterprise.
Back to the idea of the double bottom line, social entrepreneurs measure success not only by their company’s ability to be sustained, but also by their adherence to their goals and ability to make a social change. So if there is a national recession and the company loses profit, that social enterprise will not have failed as long as its projects have accomplished its mission. When economic times are uncertain, it is important for organizations to draw value from more than a monetary figure. There is room for fluctuation and flexibility, which leads to stronger, more adaptable social enterprises. Essentially, social enterprises are worth more than money, for the services they provide cannot always be quantified, yet they have extremely positive impacts on improving lives.
There are all different types of people in this country, from all different backgrounds, with all different values, drives, and educations. Some value money, others charity. Some are givers and some receive, while some do neither. Life in the United States is as diverse as its people, and while this poses some of the county’s greatest problems, it is what makes the country inherently America. Because of this extreme diversity, agents of change need to be able to provide for and adapt to the ever-changing society. The social entrepreneur fills this niche. Social entrepreneurs are business entrepreneurs making a positive impact on society. They are “creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up–and remake the world for the better” (Bornstein). Social entrepreneurs create a passionate work force, with strong values dedicated to following that passion. They also make money. They are the best of both worlds. Why have only bread when you can have bread and butter?
In the next ten years and beyond, social entrepreneurs will tackle many of the problems plaguing the country, for they find the niches in society that need addressing. Their organizations will help bridge the gap between rich and poor. They will help improve the environment. They will foster gender and sexuality equality. We are on the cusp of a new dawn where social entrepreneurs become the norm, and the potential to solving many problems through social innovation is attainable. Change happens because people work to make it happen. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. did not say “that changemakers could sit back and passively observe the arc of history bending toward justice; his life was a call for us, the changemakers, to act, to leap up to that arc, wrap our arms around it, twist it and pull it down, bending it toward justice” (Brilliant).
"About Us." Social Impact. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.
Bornstein, David. How to change the world: Social entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Brilliant, Lary. "Fifty Years of Social Change." Stanford Social Innovation Review. N.p., 2013. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.
Kanani, Rahim. "Robin Chase, Founder & Former CEO Of ZipCar, On Leadership And Innovation." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.
Uhlig, Daria K. "Differences Between Social Entrepreneurs & Business Entrepreneurs." Small Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.