Why My Views On Social Enterprises Are Shifting – Pt. 1

Part 1 of a 2 part series in which I explore how my views have changed on how an individual can create a positive social impact in society. See part two here.

Over the past three years I have been engrossed in the promise of Social Entrepreneurship’ to use business to make a positive social impact. With companies sprouting up to increase access to education through online platforms, provide eye surgeries in India through the sale of glasses, and disburse micro-loans through Peer-to-Peer lending platforms, it appears as though the Social Impact revolution is thriving.

I have been fully committed to the Social Entrepreneurship movement: attending conferences, mentoring college freshmen and even attempting my own social venture. Recently, however, I have become disillusioned with the lack of progress in the industry. With a few exceptional exceptions, I think that the Social Impact community is spending too much time talking change and not enough time making change, moving without the killer instinct of profit driven startups.

Today, Social Enterprises are generating more noise than impact

Sure, growing a triple-bottom line business can take time to bear fruit. The Acumen Fund’s devotion to “Patient Capital” is a prime example of how developing businesses with a true social impact requires a longer-term investment horizon, but I am concerned that too often, Social Entrepreneurs pat themselves on the back and make people feel good about wanting to help, rather than building products that users love and scaling their businesses to the point where they can make a real impact.

Corporations make far more impact on society than social startups. Lets focus on making that impact a positive one
We have developed a culture where we idolize 10-person startups and demonize those corporations that dare to be large enough to impact society. Seventh Generation is a darling of the Social Impact community, yet it is Unilever, the Consumer Packaged Goods behemoth, that makes more of an impact when it reduces CO2 emissions per tonne of production from 104.5kg in 2012 to 98.8kg in 2013. E-Bike companies like Riide are doing a great job producing a form of transport that is convenient and emission free, but it is mega-corporations like GE who are doing the most to reduce emissions from transportation by exponentially improving the efficiency of aircraft engines year after year.
 Working at a B-Corp or startup is sexy, but leveraging a large corporation’s resources can make you powerful

Clearly, a company like J.P. Morgan is capable of making a massive impact. In May, they announced a $100mm investment in the city of Detroit for revitalization efforts , a sum that dwarfs anything announced by non-profits or social enterprises; on the opposite end of the impact spectrum, J.P.M. was simultaneously dealing with the consequences of misleading investors in regard to the quality of its loans by agreeing to a gigantic $13bn settlement with the U.S. government. That figure alone is almost certainly greater than the cumulative economic impact made by B-Corps on society to date.

But even as an intern in J.P. Morgan’s Investment Banking Risk division this summer, I was impressed at the extent of the impact I was able to make on an individual level. My analysis formed the basis of Upper-level management’s decision making on huge deals, orders of magnitude greater than anything I had worked on in the past. I can leverage this impact to fulfill my personal desires to make a positive social impact. Even though the day to day work I was doing was more removed from “impacting society” than it would be if I was on the ground building a sustainable business, the sheer size of the deals meant that I was ultimately creating more change than I would ever be able to on my own.

    Let’s infiltrate large corporations with thousands of socially conscious employees and create a huge impact for the better.

I have made the decision to start my career with J.P. Morgan post-graduation rather than follow through with my earlier plans to join a social impact startup. People who know me well have asked if I am betraying my own principles by working in one of the most demonized industries in America, but I believe I am truly capable of doing more “good” at J.P.M. than anywhere else, at least for the next 2 to 3 years.

Putting the revolutionary ideals of the Social Entrepreneurship movement into practice within the existing system (flawed as it may be) will ultimately be a much more efficient strategy of realizing the potential of business as a tool for social good.

Until next time!


P.S. See part two here, where I argue that creating jobs is the most effective way to create sustainable positive social change!

3 thoughts on “Why My Views On Social Enterprises Are Shifting – Pt. 1

  1. I think that the greatest thing holding back socially driven enterprises is their aversion to profit. There is a massive sentiment that you can’t do good if you are making too much profit. I completely disagree. Consumers want social change so if you can address that you should be profitable. “Do gooders” try to define what it means to have social impact and then get people to meet them where they are at. It should be the other way around. A social business shouldn’t be defined by what the owner says, it should be defined by what the consumers of that product say. If we can create a profitable way to eradicate poverty (or another issue) then it will be gone and social entrepreneurs should be pushing for that instead of pushing for a culture shift.

  2. Hey Ross,

    I 1000% agree with what you are saying with social businesses being more noise than impact these days. As you said there is truly this attitude that difference means no profits, which is incorrect. I am glad you are following your passions and cannot wait for you to make an impact at JP Morgan!

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