Social Enterprises

Geert
10 minutes reading time

There are mainly 2 types of companies. The ones that primarily look to grow profit and the ones that want to bring an idea to life more than make money out of it. The ‘for-profit’ ones usually have business objectives like increasing customer loyalty, optimizing operational efficiency, penetrating new markets, … and these all mainly come down to improving financial stability or increasing shareholder value. A non-profit tells a different story. These are the more ideological type of enterprises where money doesn’t come first, but instead the selfless idea serves the highest purpose. It’s admirable to see how these people execute their job, often as volunteers, with no financial motivation whatsoever, but solely to bring an idea to life and to make a meaningful difference in the world. They are an example to the rest of the world. Personally I’ve always been inspired by these organizations but never really took the time and effort to get more involved into it. Still one day I hope I can contribute more by either being part of such an organization or maybe even starting up some kind of non-profit myself based on an idea or cause that’s close to my heart. I guess the more you grow in life the more you start to see the world around you, realizing it doesn’t always look very positive. It makes you wonder about what you’re doing each day and if your time spent (or part of it) could not be better utilized for the benefit of changing that image and making that difference.

Let’s get back to ‘for-profit’ and ‘non-profit’. As with a lot of things in life a balance needs to exist. The world cannot exist out of only non-profit and neither only for-profit companies. In a 100% non-profit world our economies could show less or negative growth, we wouldn’t focus as much on product/service innovation that could be meaningful as well and financial stability in life would perhaps not be so certain. On the other hand in a 100% for-profit world we would all become very selfish individuals with only one thing on our minds, to capitalize as much as we can without considering the impact it could have to the world around us. So one cannot exist without the other. But then again a company does not need to choose to be ‘one or the other’, there’s a middle ground in between, the area where ‘for-profit’ companies can also make a difference and not just solely think about their own existence and future. Let’s focus on that group of companies (and call them ‘social enterprises’) and see how they can adopt a social plan and how it can contribute to their objectives.

As social awareness expands globally an enterprise’ social responsibility comes to live. It’s a fact that since many years newer, more green or even orange companies realize there’s much more they can do with their company’s resources and assets. These enterprises that treat the company and the individual differently and try to create a symbiosis between the 2 that is completely aligned with the values of each, the mind-set, the motivation in life, etc… also understand that there is more to it than just running a company.

They realize there is a world outside of their ecosystem, one where not everything is sunshine and people suffer, and they also realize that the sometimes vast resources available to their company can also be used for that benefit and not only for the company’s financial objectives. These social enterprises have embedded social objectives in their overall company plan. They want to make this part of their culture and their identity. They also truly understand that it’s not just giving money to some kind of charity, that it’s also about creating social awareness in their sphere of influence so they can inspire and motivate others in doing the same. Not only giving away money but putting personal and collective time in social initiatives can be as important. In the end and often without them knowing it will create other types of benefits that can move their company forward in ways they have not thought of before.

Enterprise philanthropy as a benefit

So what are these benefits? A company’s social plan can in itself, although mostly indirectly, contribute to the company’s results.

For a long time when you wanted to win a new deal or get a new client on board you had to mainly show what you can do (offering) or what you had done as a company (references). These are most probably still the 2 main criteria for winning a new deal and so not surprisingly it’s also how many companies nowadays still want to differentiate themselves from their competition. But this is not all. Even so how a company applies its resources and how it behaves to the external world can make a difference. I believe this is one of the key factors of our own company’s success, and in certain cases it may very well be even the most important one. It’s a fact we work with people, often more than that we work with companies. It will always be people who will make the decision to partner with us and so inevitably our identity comes into play and with that our behavior as a company and individual will be part of the equation. An enterprise’s social activity becomes a key differentiator.

So being socially aware and even stronger, socially active can make a big difference in a company’s own success. It’s a win-win deal. Customers will choose to work with us because of it and at the same time we have the chance to influence them so they hopefully adopt a similar social plan. We have inspired them :-).

In our own company we at least try to do that. Social companies need to be an example for others, only then they can have the biggest impact. We do this by advertising about but even involving them in our own philanthropic initiatives. With that we try to achieve a philanthropic ‘chain reaction’. Imagine when this happens and scales up globally, it could change the world significantly.

Inspire the people

Maybe even more than the impact a social company can have to its partners and customers is the awareness it can bring to its own people. More then before people want/need to identify themselves with the company they work for or want to work for. They want to feel at home in their workplace and want to be surrounded by people that have the same mind-set and values in life. After all a lot of time, if not most time, in life is spent at the workplace versus at home. People need to feel a 100% at ease and consecutively they will also execute their job with a 100% dedication and motivation. Happy people produce happy customers was a tag line that a recruiter company had applied a few years ago. It’s very much the truth but it’s not an easy job to make that happen.

So being a social enterprise can really make a difference here. It also ensures the company attracts the people they want to attract. People that have the same mind-set when it comes to important things in life, not only because they are smart, got the right degree or have the right experience. It will improve loyalty, make people really proud of the company they work for and advertise as it being a great place to work. Again a win-win situation. People will solicit spontaneously and you can have a unique differentiator towards your competitors in the job market.

Often these companies create the feeling of a group of friends instead of a collection of colleagues. Typically, that group will sustain itself by for example organizing team events outside of the workplace. It’s not up to the leaders to create the feeling of a team, the team will do it itself. It’s extremely nice and rewarding to be part of such a company.

The social aspect can help to shape the company’s culture and make it more complete and whole. It shows that it’s not just here to make money but that it also cares about what happens outside of it. Key here is to make sure everyone has a voice in how the enterprise shapes and executes his social plan. This feeling of co-creation is very important and will ultimately result in a very close and long-term bond between the company and its workforce, a true symbiosis that can last for a very long time.

In our company we try to do that in this way. In our yearly strategy day we talk about the social plan, how it went the past year and how we want to adapt it for the next year. Everyone has a voice in that. During the year everyone in the company can lead and execute this strategy and come up with new ideas. In addition, half the time spent on a job interview is exactly talking about that. We explain our social plan and culture and see how it matches with the individuals thinking. For us this is a very important aspect and criteria for hiring our people.

How did we go about it?

We started the company mid 2012. The earlier years were focused on getting a good financial and customer base. Late 2015 the management team (my 2 fellow partners and myself) started thinking about doing more. Ironically we realized that each of us had actually thought about this separately since many years before. We each came from a different thinking path but eventually the 3 of us arrived to the same conclusion. It was one of those moments where we realized that although we are very much different collectively we had the same goal in mind. It just felt right. And so it was a ‘no-brainer’ that we wanted to do something more to make this world a better place. We put our ‘social program’ together in just about an hour and we got going. Next we presented it to the rest of the company and asked for input. We wanted to ensure we did this as a team and so in our first year we did a fundraising event where each and every one of our people had a part in. Aside from that with the rest of our budget we supported several other initiatives that were raised by our people.

How do we select the initiatives? We use a few criteria. Local, low overhead and with a maximum impact. Local means it needs to be tied somehow to our company, being its people or location or some other link. That promotes the engagement we seek from our people. Low overhead means most of the investment we do should actually be used for the purpose of the charity or non-profit and that then results in the maximum impact.

It’s important to us that we do this together. That it’s not just giving away some money. It also needs to be a human investment. That’s why we aim to invest company time and other type of resources into it as well.

We’re not the first.

Thank god we’re not the first. Many enterprises already are socially active, probably more than you think. A great example to me was Salesforce.com. Probably my personal social thinking was further triggered by this company and then mainly from attending their yearly event called Dreamforce (aka ‘the biggest technology conference on the planet’). Somehow I get inspired by being there. They call it ‘Giving Back’ and the energy hangs in the air throughout these 4 days and it also comes back in each of the keynotes, time and time again. But they get it. When you’re bringing together 150.000 people in 4 days you better make good use of it and try to inspire all of them to work for a good cause. Want to read more about other companies that are doing this? Visit http://pledge1percent.org/#pledge-now

Inspiring others is one of the keys to improving mankind, sustaining our planet and to make this world a better place for all. Because we’re all unique individuals we all play a role in that, no matter what age, gender, race, religion, background, education, … That’s just how it is. I too got inspired to write this blog by a homeless guy that I saw on the streets of San Francisco. I hope to inspire others with this blog so that maybe one day a social enterprise will help this homeless person to get back on his feet and make the best of his life. The thought of that is in itself extremely rewarding for me personally.

Discover how we can help you