Last Christmas, my friends and I were planning to do the normal gift exchange, but one girl went out of her way to give gifts that gave back. Knowing that I am someone who dreams big, she gave me a bracelet from the California startup, The Giving Keys, with a “key to my dreams”.The Giving Keys employs people transitioning out of homelessness and what once was a startup is now a jeweler with products sold in 1200+ stores nationwide.
This key inspired me to make a purchase from a different company that had a story I wanted to be a part of. The Shine Project is a jewelry company that employs inner city kids, mentors them, and helps send them to college. I bought a bracelet from The Shine Project for my on-campus boss who is also passionate about helping students get through college. It was a perfect alignment in gifts and goals.
This isn’t the only way my friends are involved in social entrepreneurship. Another friend started a campus club with Love Your Melon, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children battling cancer one beanie at time. We held fundraisers and giveaways to raise awareness about this one for one company and its “perfect for college” products.
Entrepreneurs for good
10 years ago none of these companies even existed. What changed? The social entrepreneurship movement is credited to have started in 2006 and three events stand out as catalysts:
- Bill Gates announced his shift from solutions to society by moving full-time to his foundation.
- Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace prize for lending money to the poorest of the poor.
- Toms shoes set the gold standard for corporate social responsibility with their one for one policy and using environmentally responsible materials.
With these as shining examples, people began investing more in this economic transformation. Huffington post writer, Ben Thomley, estimates that the social enterprise sector of the American economy makes up about 3.5 percent of total U.S. GDP. And 35 percent of these social enterprises are not for profits and 31 percent are regular C corporations or LLC’s. Moreover, B corporations, or Benefit corporations, are seeing a rise as well, but they are not all startups. Brand names like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Etsy are all B corporations with a mission to make the world a better place, one jacket, scoop of ice cream, or handmade bracelet at a time.
“Generation Me” gives back
With millennials being the largest living generation right now, all of this giving might come as a surprise to the people who believe the stereotypes of “Generation Me”. But in truth, perhaps all the helicopter parents telling us we’re special and can do anything is paying off because millennials are driven to pay it forward. We are entrepreneurial, have access to the internet which allows us to research products before purchasing, and want to work for companies that are dedicated to social responsibility.
Many millennials my age don’t remember what broke consumers’ trust in corporate America, we were too young when the WorldCom, Enron, and Tyco scandals took place, but we have seen the ripple effect of corporations working to earn consumers’ trust back. As a result, it makes perfect sense that we want to know what large corporations are doing to be socially responsible.
We also want to support the smaller one for one companies like Toms and we enjoy seeking out and finding fair trade treasures like Joyn handbags and Theo chocolate. If we can find a company that offers the product that meets our need and gives back to someone who in need, then we are all the more inclined to pay more and go out of our way to make that purchase.
With all of the wonderful resources available to us today, we are running out of reasons not to participate in social responsibilities. As a consumer you can use thegoodtrade.com to help you find a fair trade product specific to your need. As an entrepreneur you can utilize the resources on bcorporation.net to help you start your own benefit corporation. And as a student you can expand your knowledge through the growing availability of social entrepreneurship programs at universities like Stanford and Duke. There is boundless opportunity to make a difference and give back in a way you personally are passionate about, so why not?
This Christmas (Advent!) shopping season, shop local, shop fair trade, and shop for a cause!
Dream Big! Live Courageously! And Thrive!