Using the power of business for people and planet
There are two critiques of Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken’s book on the enormous scope of the worldwide grassroots movements for change, that I’m interested in, one being the notion that the fact that there are millions of grassroots groups at work all over the world providing basic services, fighting for justice, and improving the lot of the planet is not necessarily something to celebrate. Rather, it signifies the failure of modern society to pursue the common good. Fair enough, but that’s our reality at the moment.
The other critique I’ve heard is that Hawken celebrates the contributions of the nonprofit and grassroots movements for change to the exclusion of for-profits also doing good.
Valid point, but it hardly seems fair to Hawken, who co-authored the instant classic Natural Capitalism, besides the fact that this was not the point of his book.
But yes, there are many for-profit entrepreneurs doing good already, with potential for many more to do so, as discussed by Kevin Doyle here at Grist recently. For-profits are easier to start and easier to run than a nonprofit, so if a person can work out a revenue model that works, there’s no end to the amount of good that this profit can generate.
A solid example is SunEnergy Power Corporation, a for-profit corporation organized to develop commercial-scale solar electric projects in the U.S., and whose profits are used to fund SunEnergy Power International which designs and implements sustainable renewable energy projects around the world for villages and towns without access to electricity. Renewable electrification projects like this are key to improving life expectancy, land tenure, and quality of life in rural areas of developing countries.
So yes, change comes in all shapes and configurations, and the for-profit sector has much to contribute to building a better world.
There are many folks in business school right now focused on this, and many more are already at the task in the developing countries. One way that anyone can help fund these social entrepreneurs is by lending them capital via the grassroots micro-lending organization Kiva: Choose your project, lend the money, and when it’s repaid in 6-12 months, you can reinvest it in another project. Very cool.