Posts tagged with: social entrepreneurship

U.S. Terracycle office, photo courtesy of BBC

U.S. Terracycle office, photo courtesy of BBC

Starting a business is a risky undertaking. You need money, a product or service people want and away to deliver that product or service that keeps some of that money in your pocket. For social entrepreneurs, the  stakes are even higher: their goal is to do something good while making money.

Tom Szaky of TerraCycle is quite clear: “I want to make a lot money doing good.” And he just may do it. TerraCycle has been based in the U.S. for 13 years, but Szaky and his family fled communist Hungary when he was very young. The ended up first in Holland, then Canada, then the U.S. One thing that struck young Szaky and his father was the amount of “good stuff” people threw out:

In Hungary back then, you needed a licence for a TV set,” he explains.

You couldn’t just go and buy one. Instead, after applying for a licence maybe a year later you’d get a black and white TV, and you’d get the one state channel.

Tom says: “Only a few years later we end up in Canada where every Friday my dad and I would drive round and see mountains of TVs thrown out of every apartment buildings. (more…)

small-actions-change-the-worldAt a point in time where the election cycle invites everyone and their brother to “throw their hat in the ring,” Americans constantly jabber about which candidates might have the biggest national impact. What is overlooked is that local leaders are the ones who make the greatest impact in our daily lives.

Cheryl Dorsey insists that local communities must pay attention to their own leaders in order to thrive:

It’s imperative that the investment community and others support these entrepreneurs in the communities where they work. Markets are places where value is created. These social entrepreneurs look at disadvantaged youth, dilapidated houses, low-income neighborhoods and under-performing educational systems, and they see how they can create more value. We must change the climate for these leaders so they can put solutions into practice and to build markets where others ignore them. We need to build the investment and support system to help them go further, faster.


Mako Fujimura, one of the artists hosted by the Acton Institute for ArtPrize 2014

Mako Fujimura, one of the artists hosted by the Acton Institute for ArtPrize 2014

Here in Grand Rapids, we are awaiting the beginning of ArtPrize (Sept. 24-Oct. 12.) For those of us who live or work in the city, we are seeing signs of it: posters hung in coffee shop windows, artists installing pieces, restaurants adding waitstaff, and venues getting spit-shined. It’s a big deal: in 2013, ArtPrize brought in 400,000+ visitors to this city, an estimated $22 million in net growth and hundreds of jobs. Not too shabby for an event that didn’t even exist a few short years ago.

The genesis of ArtPrize was the mind of Rick DeVos, a man focused on entrepreneurship and starting conversations. DeVos started ArtPrize not as a way to bring money to his hometown (“a happy accident“), but because:

…his forays into tech startups had made him love the democracy of the Internet and the possibilities afforded by crowdsourcing. Why not a contest with an open call for artists and an open vote? “I was always intrigued with the X-Prize model,” he said, referring to the $10 million prize offered for private-sector space flight. “This whole idea of putting a big prize out there and then putting as few rules around it as possible, not trying to dictate what the outcome should look like.” The idea expanded from there, and in 2009, five months after he first announced it, ArtPrize opened to the public.


givingmoney“Do economic incentives help or hinder ‘business as mission’ (BAM) practitioners?” In a forthcoming study, Dr. Steven Rundle of Biola University explores the question through empirical research.

Unsatisfied with the evidence thus far, consisting mostly of case studies and anecdotes, Rundle conducted an anonymous survey of 119 “business as mission” practitioners, focusing on a variety of factors, including (1) “the source of their salary (does it come from the revenues of the business or from donors?),” and (2) “the outcomes of the business in terms of the four ‘bottom lines’ of economic, social, environmental and spiritual impact.”

The reason for focusing on such areas? “Many people in the ministry/missions world believe that donor support helps ensure that practitioners stay focused on the ministry goals.”

Rundle summarizes his findings as follows:

This study essentially found the exact opposite. It found that practitioners who are fully supported by the business tend to out-perform – sometimes significantly – donor-supported BAM practitioners, and are no less fruitful in terms of spiritual impact. This finding holds up even after controlling for things like geography, firm size, and firm type.

…. The moral of the story is that economic incentives matter. Contrary to the mission community’s concern that self-support will take one’s attention away from the ministry goals, the truth is that only by creating a successful business can a practitioner hope to have a meaningful and holistic impact on a community. (more…)

Colonial Church of Edina

Colonial Church of Edina

Pastor Daniel Harrell had a heart for missions, so upon unexpectedly receiving roughly $2 million from a land sale, his Minnesota church was energized to use the funds accordingly. Though they had various debts to pay and building projects to fund, the church was committed to allocating at least 20 percent to service “outside of their walls.”

“The sensible way to spend the 20 percent would have been to find a successful service agency and write the check,” Harrell writes, in a recent piece for Christianity Today‘s This Is Our City.* “But I hated that idea. Surely we could leverage this money in a way that would let us get personally involved.”

The process proceeded as follows:

We had the money. We had the wisdom and experience, especially in fields related to business. What we lacked was our particular calling (or the energy to follow it through). What if we challenged young adults in our church and wider community to generate an idea that could become our calling?

I proposed we take $250,000 and sponsor a social entrepreneurial competition. We could invite innovators ages 35 and younger to submit project proposals with gospel values of grace, justice, love, redemption, and reconciliation. We’d ask that applicants affirm the Apostles’ Creed, because we wanted our effort to promote Christian faith. Our church would provide funding and expertise, networking, creative community, and acceleration toward successful launches. We’d use business acumen to make the projects sustainable and stress measurable outcomes. (more…)

PovertyCure was featured in Forbes Magazine last week. Alex Chafuen, one of Acton’s founding board members, featured PovertyCure in his article on champions of innovation. He writes:

A new multifaceted initiative, called PovertyCure, provides abundant materials and resources for those who want to create lasting solutions to poverty. The program is founded on the conviction that each human person can be a source of great creativity. It highlights the incentives needed to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that fills the developing world.

Chafuen also calls attention to PovertyCure’s focus on the big picture:

Many intellectual entrepreneurs and some of their donors and “angel investors” tend to be single-product champions. They focus on only one element in the road to reduce poverty, e.g., women rights, property titles, vaccines. This could lead to neglect of the fundamental problems that impede successful outcomes in their area of work… A fruitful dialogue among participants in PovertyCure can increase the chances that poverty or “human flourishing” programs will be structured with the proper incentives.

Instead of focusing on what we can do to solve poverty, the real question is how do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities.

Learn more about PovertyCure, their network of over 180 organizations, and order the new PovertyCure DVD-Series, a 152-minute documentary-style series that challenges conventional thinking and explores the economic and theological foundations of human flourishing.

Over at Christianity Today, HOPE International’s Chris Horst, whose article on a Christian manufacturer was recently highlighted at the PowerBlog, focuses on yet another Christian business, this time dealing in mattresses:

“This is one of the sleaziest industries in the world,” says business owner Ethan Rietema. “Customers are treated so poorly. Stores beat you up, trying to get as much money as they can, but they couldn’t care less if you get the right bed.”

Rietema and Steve Van Diest, both former campus ministers, are bringing rest—and integrity—back to a business largely devoid of it. Four years ago, a Christian entrepreneur invited the Colorado natives to begin deploying their relational abilities in strip malls rather than on college campuses. They now co-own three Urban Mattress stores in Denver and have franchised four more. And, they argue, their current work is just as important as their former ministry….

…”I don’t have to do mental gymnastics with the product I sell,” Van Diest says. “It’s not a frivolous item. It’s not an image-conscious product. People come here after being worn down by horrible sleep, replete with aches and pain. If we can provide them with a small glimpse of grace for a third of their lives, that’s kingdom work. That matters to God.”

Every entrepreneur begins by identifying a need. For Rietema and Van Diest, it was better customer service and consumer information. Urban Mattress has grown its business by directly countering a status-quo industry environment of price misinformation, offering “consistent and fair prices that promote transparency and honesty.” No faux “blowout sales,” no shady product labeling, no overly hasty, overly pushy customer interactions.