When is enough, enough?

By Stephen King, Founder at SocialBusiness.org

I had a debate on which picture to choose for this blog, I had a bigger debate on whether to write this blog, and really this blog is all about the biggest debate I have with myself – which I am finding out to be a secret debate that a lot of other people are having as well.

‘I have known it for while, although I keep making excuses, what I spend my day doing is not making the world a better place.’

Making a profit, which allows companies to employ people, so those employees can eat well and put shelter over their head is a good thing; the debate is really about the way they go about making the profit. I have always been a fan of the concept of the ‘Triple Bottom Line’, which states after economic profit, you need to add (or in most cases subtract) environmental and social profit. In this way we can see the true contribution a company is making, and I would argue that most companies would be negative total profit under this measure. You only have to look at the recent BP incident to realise how the environmental impact will be factored into their new ‘bottom line’. And we have gone a long way in recent times to measure environmental impacts; the next push will be on the measurement of social impacts – although that is for another blog post.

People make up companies, and I believe people are at the heart of this debate. It is all about what we choose to spend our days doing. And the choice in your career is often made to appear polar in its characterisation, it is either work for a big corporation or a charity, there is no in-between – I believe this is wrong, and I also believe this is rapidly changing. There are numerous options now to do both, and growing options to do both in the same company, here are some examples in a chronological approach to your career.

Start from scratch: It might be the most challenging, but arguably the most direct route. This route is likely taken when you are already involved in the social sector, as you need to be close to the problems.Fair Finance is a great example of a young person with a passion who is replicating microfinance principles in urban poverty stricken areas, right here in the UK.

From the corporate: Many corporations are keen to be associated with this growing sector. While in your current position, it is possible to start dedicating portions of your time to a social venture. In both the cases of Cool2Care, which started while at IBM, and Teach First London, which started while at McKinsey, we see great examples of migrating from their current employer to running the social venture that they started while fully employed.

Within the coporate: While you are in your job, a number of the big coporations are starting to make it possible to do both while you are there, and Allianz is a great example. This emerging area of the social intrapreneur is interesting, as it points to large corporations hearing the message from the consumer and the employee.

Post-corporate: This is the most traditional method for non-profits and charities to attract senior business people, for both board and CEO roles. Successful corporate people, who are financially secure and want to now give back to society. They find the idea of sustainable business models operating in social areas, even more interesting. One such example is the CEO of Café Direct, who retired from a very successful career to move into the CEO role of this exciting social venture.

Today you will find employees and in particular new graduates from university screaming inside not to have to make this trade-off; they want to be able to do both, and it will be the companies that deliver all three types of profits that will be successful at the end of this century. And as I researched this blog, I found that this is not the first time business folks realised this. A quote from one of the biggest business gurus of our time:

“Social responsibility objectives need to be built into the strategy of a business, rather than merely be statements of good intentions.” Source: Peter F. Drucker, Frontiers of Management. New York; Truman Talley Books, 1968.,

The debate will rage, and in the end it is an individual decision. Although one debate is over for me, it is our purpose and our responsibility to help others, this is not a choice. Everyday you should be making the world a better place.

What did you do today?

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