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The Socially Responsible Entrepreneur
Published on Oct 5, 2010
Read 'The Socially Responsible Entrepreneur' at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
Not too long ago, terms like, "renewable," "fair trade," and "sustainable" were considered the vocabulary of what some would refer to as "granolas," "tree huggers" or "the far left." There was a time when the majority of entrepreneurs seemed to be 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 has often come from business, and for years many companies have included making a difference in the world as part of their overall mission. Still, the emphasis on making the Earth a better place for all to live, while we build our businesses, has only recently come to the forefront.
These days, you're almost as likely to hear a CEO speaking of corporate responsibility as financial projections. This shift might have something to do with so many young idealists starting companies. In days past, 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 all that much, those companies receiving the largest chunk of positive media attention were started by entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s.
What does it mean to be a socially responsible entrepreneur?
Whatever the reason, social responsibility in business looks like it's here to stay, and it's growing fast. But what exactly does it mean to say someone is a socially responsible entrepreneur? The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs says social entrepreneurs are, "Those who drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development." Put another way, a social entrepreneur is someone who takes action to make the world a better place while building his or her business. Does that mean your business has to be all about saving endangered species or providing opportunities to Third World populations? Not necessarily. Socially responsible entrepreneurs don't necessarily devote their business to supporting or funding causes. Being a socially responsible entrepreneur is simply doing whatever your business does best, and considering other factors - such as the environment, poverty or social equality - when making business decisions.
3 steps to become a social entrepreneur
Go Green! Whether you're a home-based entrepreneur or CEO of a large company, 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. Remember: any change you make, no matter how small it seems will help to make a difference, and those changes that save energy or reuse materials will save you some money, too!
Give it away. Thinking about replacing an 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 Cristina Foundation or TechSoup Stock to find out how to donate your electronics to a good cause. Another way to give back is if you have a company with several employees, consider holding a food or clothing drive a couple of times a year. Remember, it's not just during the holidays when people are in need. Local charities are always happy to take your donations.
Find a cause. As an entrepreneur, you know how important it is 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 whales, you'll still recycle cardboard, but your primary focus will be on ocean 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 you 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, you 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 world - and the soul.
While we all like making money, finding meaning and fulfillment in our lives is a universal human need that 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?
About the authorMatthew Toren is co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com, one of the largest and fastest growing small business social networking forums for entrepreneurs, and a "must visit" resource for start-up CEOs, founders, aspiring entrepreneurs, mentors and investors worldwide, reaching an audience that very few can match.