“Social entrepreneurship” has been a buzzword for some time now.
The term has transformed the way people think about charity, profit, and impact.
However, debate exists about how people define “social entrepreneurship” and how they go about starting social businesses.
According to some, “social entrepreneurship” is a redundant term because all businesses are “social.” Businesses create jobs, goods, and services, and thus contribute to overall social prosperity.
Additionally, some organizations operating under the title of “social business” are thought to have caused more harm than good. Think of the TOM’s shoes controversy.
As Christians, how are we to approach social entrepreneurship and engage in the dialogue or actions surrounding it?
Last month InterVarsity Christian Fellowship co-hosted the 24th Urbana conference. Urbana has made a number of their seminars available online, and one in particular caught my eye: “How to Start a Social Business.”
The seminar was led by a social entrepreneur, Jimmy Quach, who helped start Good Paper, a fair-trade greeting card company that helps survivors of human trafficking.
Here are three things I learned about a Christian approach to social business.
Not Everyone Is Called to Social Business, but Everyone Can Have an Impact
Even if the company you work for is not a “social business,” the work you do can and should still have a social impact.
Whether working for a headhunting company helping others find employment, serving people coffee, or keeping your clients’ accounting in order, your work has a significant impact on the way society operates and flourishes.
Quach realizes not everyone is called to social business. He believes you do not have to leave your job in order to have a social impact.
My friend works at Google. He recently went to Nairobi, Kenya, and he met an auto-mechanic. This auto-mechanic told the story of how he was really poor, but then he learned how to actually fix cars, and now he can actually provide for his family… My friend asked him, ‘how did you learn to fix cars?’ He was like, ‘I watched a lot of YouTube videos.’
Quach recognizes that YouTube (owned by Google) is making an impact around the world because of their mission to make information free and accessible.
Customers Matter, so Figure Out What Sells
Quach is still a big advocate for starting social businesses.
He sees the benefits of fighting for a cause and making an impact through business:
If you can tap into existing market places that are already happening, it’s actually like a firehose… it fuels you, it fuels your activity.
Quach believes that it is very important to have the customer in mind when starting a social business and says:
The first thing you have to do is figure out what sells – don’t start with the cause. The cause is what moves us… but, you can’t start a business around a cause.
To start a social business, you have to know what will be marketable to your target customers.
If customers aren’t buying your product, then those you are trying to empower by selling their goods will be left with shelves of products you trained them to make and no income.
We don’t always have to become the person that does every part of the work – we need to partner with those who do know how.
We should not be out to build an empire for ourselves, but instead partner with others and God to contribute to his kingdom and his glory.
Quach also talks about “watering the plant.” He reminds his audience of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
This is radical and liberating.
Quach says it is radical because this means there is an aspect of business that is out of our control, even if we are attempting to perform at the best level.
Additionally, he says this is liberating because it turns us away from being focused on the “normal cycles of business” and toward trusting in God to make our work grow.
This is powerful advice. This Scripture will take us far because it frees us from believing we are going to save the world.
Christ already came to save the world.
Now it is our turn to continue in Christ’s restorative process and responsibly use the resources and talents he has given us, partner with him and others, and trust in him to make our work flourish.