3 Ways Everyday People Can Make Social Business the Norm
How do we make social change happen? Does we rush it in on a tidal wave, wait for it to occur as each new generation comes of age like a changing-of-the-guard, or slowly chip away at it over decades, often out of view, until suddenly the older among us remember things used to be some other way?
Whether you believe social change is a fierce storm or a slow erosion, one thing our generation agrees on is that we have some measure of control over it. Person to person, mind to mind, Millennials and our successors in Generation Z believe we have the power, at least on some level, to move the needle. After all, we’re craving work with a social purpose in record numbers, turning to careers in nonprofits and social enterprises, and even freelancing in social good fields.
But we don’t want to stop at working in jobs that make an impact. Our generations want to change the world overall — and that means that social good must be infused into every aspect of our lives, not only in the way we make a living, but in what we wear, what we do for entertainment, and what eat for dinner. To succeed, we need to make doing good a built-in part of for-profit, commercial operations and spaces; we must rail against a decades-old philosophy that the strict and sole purpose of business is to maximize profits. As the father of microfinance and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus so eloquently put it, “Business is a very beautiful mechanism to solve problems, but we never use it for that purpose. We only use it to make money. It satisfies our selfish interest but not our collective interest.”
While corporate social responsibility and B Corps have gotten the spotlight lately, business largely remains profit-centered over people- and planet-centered. So how do we do it? How can people — not just those already in the nonprofit or social impact space, but everyone — make social impact as an integral part of business the norm? Here are a few ideas:
1. Make your workplace a place of purpose
Many are flocking to fields where making a social impact is a given; around 10% of the U.S. population purportedly works in the Nonprofit Sector with others discovering employment with B Corps and social enterprises as their stars rise. Still, the majority of the population works for private, for-profit businesses big and small — businesses totally capable of integrating more social good into their operations and culture, with a little convincing from the general population.
If you already work for a private company with a great culture of corporate social responsibility, awesome! That’s an excellent platform to talk about the benefits of social business so you can be a part of making social responsibility the norm, not the exception. Annually, Points of Light recognizes a group of top socially responsible companies through their Civic50 initiative. Share the good these groups do with your friends and social networks, nominate your own employer for the list, and add to the conversation — doing these things will keep nudging our society as a whole into one that accepts that business can be a force for good as normal.
If your company hasn’t yet picked up the social impact baton, why not be a champion from within to get things going? Many corporate volunteer and philanthropy initiatives start from the ground up through teams of employees who work with managers to get buy-in. Rally your forces, build up your case, and see if you can become a champion for corporate do-gooding from within. Or, if you’re the boss, lead the way.
That said, while a majority of folks work in the private sector, we can’t ignore the insane rise of self-employment and freelancing. Some predict that 50% (woah!) of workers could be freelancing by 2027. If you require social good as part of your work life and working for a private company isn’t for you, freelancing for good is a great option. Use the skills you’ve accrued through jobs in the private or nonprofit sectors and take on gigs to make an impact with causes that need you through platforms like Wethos. If you’ve got a full time thing but want to take on a few projects on the side, this is also a great way to dip your toe in and build up a portfolio of work done for causes that matter to you.
2. Integrate do-gooding into downtime
Whether you enjoy hanging out with friends at the bar or dabbling in investing, there are a number of easy ways to encourage and amplify social business through your hobbies.
Small businesses are building community and supporting charitable causes, making it easy for you to do the things you normally would (like grab a beer) with the knowledge that some good is coming out of it too. In my area, near Raleigh / Durham, North Carolina, a bottle shop and brewery hosts a weekly Run Club with a portion of each beer sale benefiting a local cause. Stylists at Salons volunteer to devote a day to raising funds for a cause through each hair cut. Local media companies are launching sections of their website to highlight ways for locals to do good.
If we want to see more of this — do-gooding connected to little parts of our everyday lives — all we have to do is choose to participate, and let those managing the effort that you like what they’re doing and they should keep it up.
If investing is a favorite pastime, it has become even easier to throw your support behind socially responsible businesses through the stock market. From investing in mutual funds that specialize in companies with high environmental, social, and good governance standards to joining the microlending trend and helping lift up an entrepreneur in a developing country, there are plenty of ways to scratch the investment itch with a clean conscience.
3. Benefit the world when you buy
It is said that people vote for the kind of world they want to see with their wallets, and it makes a good amount of sense. After all, products and companies overall have risen and fallen on the trust of consumers. If we want to see a world in which social good is a core component of most if not all business, we need to buy that world with our purchases.
Making socially conscious consumer decisions can seem daunting. It can feel overwhelming to devote hours to researching which brands to support with your purchases. Fortunately, other social good champions have done a lot of this heavy lifting for us. One B Corps ambassador in my city, Jessica Yinka Thomas, challenged her Twitter and Instagram followers to find and use products made only by social good businesses. In the process, she laid out 50 products she personally used in a single day to demonstrate how easy it could be to follow her example, from cheese, to shoes, to insect repellant. Those she cited are a small sampling; a long list of B Corps can be found right on the Certified B Corporation website.
Once you’ve identified some solid brands to support with your wallet, use your voice to amplify their reach by helping promote social good businesses to your networks. The idea of social business is still new and many folks out there may still be skeptical. After all, we’ve thought of business as cold, harsh, and profit-making for so long, it’s ingrained in our culture. So don’t be shy — share your knowledge with friends and let these brands know you appreciate their efforts.
If enough people do it, business that does good, too, will become the norm, not the exception.