More businesses looking beyond the bottom line
From home ownership to healthy meals, many firms are raising more than money
The entrepreneurial business model has proven it can consolidate wealth — just last week, Oxfam came out with research showing the richest 62 people in the world have a net worth equal to that of half of the world’s population.
But the system can also address society’s needs. Take Anita Roddick’s approach.
With the opening of her first Body Shop in1976, Roddick is probably the most famous social entrepreneur of the GenX generation. Under her mantra of “trade, not aid,” she built a global enterprise that championed human rights and environmental issues, before her death in 2007.
Social enterprises aim to put the power of the free market to work toward a healthier, more sustainable society. While corporations often measure their financial, social and environmental performance, the raison d’être of a social enterprise is to meet a societal need, leveraging entrepreneurial skills to address poverty, education, health and environmental issues.
Not all of these businesses succeed. Even iconic brands have been known to make a misstep; look at what recently happened with Goodwill. That’s not to say we can’t learn from the experience and build more resilient enterprises.
Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, the U.K., USAID and the United Nations Development Programme have joined together to establish “The Business Call to Action,” which challenges companies to develop innovative business models that achieve both commercial and development success.
In Ontario, with an Office for Social Enterprise in the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, and a strong network platform called SEOntario, the province is host to a number of unique and diverse social enterprises to encourage the rising tide to lift all boats.
Once rare unicorns in the business world, these social movements, run in a corporate guise, are becoming more mainstream. They can be global in ambition or the mom-and-pop store on the corner. Here are some local examples: A healthy approach Chris Klugman from Paintbox Bistro, a café and caterer set in Toronto’s rejuvenated Regent Park starts the conversation with a caveat: “We’re hesitant to call ourselves a social enterprise because we aspire to set the tone for what all business should be like in the future.” He highlights two areas where Paintbox supports the community. “Food quality is paramount, and the way to reach that is by building our meals from scratch. This way, our workers also develop the foundational skills to make a healthy, tasty meal.” Second, Paintbox hires trainees through Woodgreen Community Services, which identifies candidates who face barriers to entering the workforce. Its at- tention to quality and its social component have earned Paintbox preferred-supplier status to some large organizations keen on supporting the community. Cycling through the system The Learning Enrichment Foundation has a bicycle assembly and maintenance program that helps youth build skills and discipline needed for the workforce. Graduates get a certificate approved under the Private Career Colleges Act and need to take a one-week placement working in a bicycle shop. Funds generated from the program and sale of the bikes it fixes go back into the bicycle shop and training program. Affordable home ownership Freelance artists and contract workers are often not on banks’ radars as loan candidates, and home ownership for them is often a dream. A non-profit condominium development consultant, Options for Homes, has been providing home- ownership opportunities for households with annual incomes as low as $30,000 per year for more than 20 years. It doesn’t charge to make a profit and it offers down-payment support in the form of second mortgages. The caveat is that the owner must live in the unit. Money from repaid loans is rolled back into the program to create new cost-effective homes for other buyers. The development consultant has already put up10 condo buildings in the GTA and has affiliates in Cambridge, Waterloo, Kingston, Ont., and abroad. Fair trade Me To We is a retail platform, the business arm of Free the Children. The extra financial injection it provides allows Free the Children to punch above its weight while demonstrating the power of fair-trade practices. Since 2009, Me To We has donated more than $8.5 million to Free the Children in cash and inkind donations, and has employed more than 1,400 Kenyan artisans.
Since 2009, Me To We has employed more than 1,400 Kenyan artisans while raising funds for Free the Children.