Entrepreneurship is always expanding as people find new ways to be innovative and make their ideas stand out. As consumers become more interested in social movements and making sure the companies they support share their values, entrepreneurial innovation is increasingly striving to address social and environmental issues. Finding solutions to these problems from a more innovative startup mindset and with the opportunity to take more risks (especially financial ones) can actually open the door to making more progress toward dismantling social and environmental problems. This is often the argument for social enterprises.
Social entrepreneurship is the overarching category that encompasses for-profit ventures that act similarly to non-profits in their mission. The umbrella term for for-profit entities with social impact missions is social enterprises, but there are a number of ways a business can earn the social enterprise title. Some undertake corporate social responsibility measures by participating in acts of social good that extend beyond what is required of their business to generate profit or adhere to legal requirements. Others adopt the triple bottom line, which establishes goals focused on gaining ground with people and the planet rather in addition to their financial bottom line. Finally, some companies change the actual legal label of their business to an L3C (which is a mix between a nonprofit and a limited liability company (LLC)) or something called a benefit corporation (or b corp for short).
You may not know what a b corp is or even that such a thing existed, but you’re probably familiar with companies that fit under the benefit corporation umbrella. Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Toms, and Bombas are just a few. Civic Champs is a b corp as well. So what does being a b corp entail ? To simplify the complex, benefit corporations are entities with legally defined goals surrounding the impact they have on the environment, workers, society, and the community. There’s also a more specific sect of benefit corporations that are part of B Lab’s B Corp program and meet their standards in addition to the ones to which that business is legally bound. According to the B Lab website, “certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” Each certified b corp has an impact score based on the categories of governance, workers, community, environment, and customers. 50.9 is the “median score for ordinary businesses” and 80 is the minimum number to qualify for b corp certification.
The aforementioned businesses have scores ranging from 89.2 to 151.4 and have been certified b corps for different periods of time, but one thing they all have in common is affiliation with nonprofit and/or grassroots organizations. Bombas is a sock company that donates a pair of socks for every pair sold in order to help ensure homeless shelters have clean socks for those they serve. In this case, Bombas works closely with nonprofits in order to realize their goal of helping homeless shelters and those who live in them. Toms, a shoe company that “pioneered” (and once used) the One for One model that Bombas uses, now works with grassroots organizations by donating one third of their profits to “grassroots good.” They define this as “the result of a community mobilizing to address an issue they’re all impacted by, like services that are scarce, or statistics that are too high” and provide the donations to organizations that are focused on “promoting mental health, ending gun violence, and increasing access to opportunity.”
Patagonia and the Patagonia Org (501c3) raise funds and match donations for nonprofits and grassroots organizations focused on environmental causes and donate one percent of their sales to grantees every year, adding to the $110 million they’ve donated to nonprofit organizations as of 2019. Ben & Jerry’s connection to nonprofits is much like that of Civic Champs. They have a separate foundation, which includes many of the company’s employees, that offers grants to those advancing orgs that engage in social and environmental activism and they make an effort to fund local, grassroots initiatives. Taking stances on social issues might be mainstream now, but Ben and Jerry’s was one of the first companies to do so, starting in 1988 when one of the founders created “1% for Peace” which set a goal to redirect 1% of the national defense budget to fund peace promoting activities through sales of their Peace ice cream pop
Following in the footsteps of the b corps that came before us, Civic Champs partners with nonprofits by creating technology to help make their operations more efficient. Much like Ben and Jerry’s, Civic Champs also has a foundation that offers donations to grassroots and nonprofit organizations through something we call “cash grab grants” and houses initiatives like Helping Hands, which connects volunteers with local organizations in order to get services to seniors in need and those who don’t have access to transportation.
Clearly, b corps and nonprofits are interconnected. Since the social and environmental responsibility these for profit companies commit to undertaking involves providing grants and giving donations, it’s safe to say they truly couldn’t exist without nonprofits and grassroots organizations. Conversely, nonprofits introducing entrepreneurial tactics through partnerships with for profit social enterprises have the possibility to fuel new, innovative solutions to social and economic issues.
It’s impossible for one person or one entity to solve an entire issue like the climate crisis or world hunger, but collaboration might just be enough. Nonprofit and grassroots organizations focus on finding solutions to very important issues plaguing society. Sometimes these organizations and the issues to which they bring attention don’t get the recognition they deserve. Conversely, for profit entities (which are starting to take a stand on social issues given the uptick in ethical consumption) possess the marketing resources, cultural capital, and monetary influence to get the word out but could benefit from direction on how to navigate a new world of social causes. In the same ways that Civic Champs, Bombas, Toms, Patagonia, and Ben & Jerry’s have relationships with organizations focused on social impact, the give and take of partnerships based on accountability and growth could exist among others, creating more efficient and effective change.