I started reading Muhammad Yunus’ book, Social Business. He suggests that in addition to government agencies, charities and for-profit corporations, the world needs another type of enterprise – the social business. This is basically a company set up to address a particular social need, such as public health, poverty or education, and is structured similarly to a corporation but returns no dividends or capital gains to its investors. Any profit is guaranteed to be re-invested into achieving the social goal.
This might sound like a pipe-dream coming from someone else. Yunus, though, is the guy who founded the Grameen bank. Through his work millions of people have had access to banking services and small business loans that would have otherwise been denied them. He has demonstrated in very practical ways that helping the poor can be about more than handouts – that creativity and entrepreneurship are key aspects as well.
In his advice for those considering starting a personal business, he says Start with a personal passion. Too often, as businesses or individuals, we do whatever we need to do to earn revenue, and consider our ‘mission statement’ as something to be tacked on afterwards, maybe to please investors. But what would happen if we looked at it the other way round? If we asked ‘what is my mission in life’ first, and only then asked ‘how am I going to achieve it on an economically sustainable basis?’
Dennis Bakke, in his book Joy at Work suggested a very similar concept. He argued that the goal of a for-profit corporation and a non-profit charity should really be the same thing: providing a service for society on an economically sustainable basis.
But regardless of how we choose to structure our enterprises – non-profits, corporations, co-ops, we must start with defining our mission, and then decide how we will go about reaching it.