Whether taken from an old Chinese proverb or something that evolved from an adage credited to Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie, we have all heard the phrase “…give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”. I would like to take it a few steps farther and talk about a socio-economic business model you might want to consider in your next entrepreneurial venture or maybe even a new structure for your current business.
While there are so many non-profit organizations feeding those who would otherwise not survive, my passion is more to help develop what is often referred to as “Social Enterprises” which I like to define as “…revenue generation organizations that have a give-back mentality”. They may be structured as Benefit Corporations or as Low-profit Limited Liability Companies (L3C’s) but operate similarly as businesses that allocate a portion of their profits to a specific or general social benefit and not exclusively for the benefit of their shareholders. Under these structures for-profit organizations can make a conscious and public decision to invest a portion of their profits into impact-driven initiatives which themselves might be non- or for-profit companies. In “giving back” we can also support initiatives that directly support our company values and convert generic giving into something so much more meaningful, beneficial and rewarding – personally and financially.
Building on the theories of Maslow and others we can fulfill immediate needs of survival, provide assistance for subsistance and engage in a process of sustainability with measurable and significant results and benefits. For those of us who are so tired of a culture of exclusively maximizing profits for financial investors, the results of such behaviors in driving jobs and opportunities overseas and overall displeasure in social and economic opportunity for ALL Americans are issues we must and can address. This is not just some simple dream or fantasy, it is something we can do today and achieve social and economic benefit right away!! We the business community have a vested stake in all aspects of our communities.
Yes, there will always be those who will need a fish to survive but the hope is for this to be the exception, not the rule – and only to meet the immediate need. Yes, the next step would be to teach that person to fish but we can do even more. Let’s teach another to make the fishing poles, another to make ice, others to drive trucks to sell the fish in another market – and let’s not forget those who can teach us not to overfish or destroy the ecosystem! So, maybe too simply stated, we like to develop the rod making, ice making, trucking, …. businesses that will be the backbone for the communities and help those who have been given the fish, get on a path of self-sustainability.
Just a social perspective? Not at all, it’s (good) business (for good).
There are many companies who have learned how important these topics are to their Customers and the marketplace. With appropriate performance in these areas and a good marketing approach these investments can become a very effective marketing campaign and increase the top line. I’m not talking about selling social engagement just to drive up profits but there is nothing wrong with driving social and economic growth and being very transparent about the business side of things. can’t we drive revenue AND do good at the same time?
A Benefit Corporation or L3C structure might not be right for you or your business or by your suppliers or other partners either but I would hope you would think about it.
If you would like to talk more, just drop me a line.