Income or impact?

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Annual Conference for the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. The topic was a great one, and something that all aspiring and ‘aspired’ business should be thinking about – how do we manage the responsibility of being a profitable business when there is so much social change that is needed for a more equitable world? Is this an essential question for start-ups, or incompatible with the very essence of a start-up?

I loved John Bird of the Big Issue’s statement that businesses need to revolutionise the way they sell products. And to do this requires a revolution in the way they THINK. We are so used to doing what others have done, building business models based on past successes. People are in many ways terrified of diversity (see previous blog!) but that’s exactly what we need. The collective thinking power of those starting, running and excelling in business is unquestionably capable of doing this. It needs brave front runners and can be helped by government policy to encourage investment in risky businesses with huge potential.

Whilst I respected Gary Grant of The Entertainer’s business empire, and his tithing of charitable donations which is certainly more than many do, listening to John Bird it seemed archaic and out-dated. Gandys flip flops however (me being the proud owner of two new pairs as of this morning, thanks guys) were representative of a whole new way to create social impact – as a core part of the business model. In fact their whole reason for being. There seem to be so many possibilities if we can ‘just’ rethink the way businesses have historically been run. Throw out the textbook.

What seems to be at the heart of the conference’s question for me is a need for each business to very carefully consider, at the outset, the values on which it is created and how those values are demonstrated by the way they work and their culture. Behavioural economics suggests that people WANT to make good choices but are inherently lazy. So if we, as responsible businesses, make making the right choice easy for our consumers and create products and services founded on good values and doing good, in whichever small or big way that can be, it will make a huge difference.

As for the question ‘should I focus first on making a profit so that then I can spend it doing social good, or create social good from the outset to the detriment of profit’ – surely, surely, there is a way of doing both. We just need to think differently.