As the name implies, social entrepreneurship is about starting socially focused businesses. Generally, in the long-run social businesses will be bought or traded, so what happens to the social mission at that point in time?
There has been a lot of debate about this; in an ideal world, social entrepreneurs create business models that rely on the social mission in order to complete the profit formula. Personally, I’m always on the look-out for ways to better ensure that my company’s social mission will be further fulfilled with each new dollar of revenue.
In their Fall 2012 publication, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a fascinating article about the truth behind Ben & Jerry’s sale to Unilever, and how it affects social entrepreneurs. The premise of the article is that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t want to sell out of fear that their social mission/culture would be lost, but eventually they were obligated to sell to a large buyer. There are some good lessons for social entrepreneurs at the end.
Naturally a few questions come to mind:
Can social entrepreneurs actually succeed in ensuring that their social mission doesn’t go away when they leave? Yes—it is certainly possible, but this is a key challenge.
Do social entrepreneurs have exit opportunities/buyers that would prioritize the social mission & maintain it? At present, the space is limited but socially minded investing firms (like Abacus) are on the rise and eventually there will be enough demand from investors to maintain socially minded funds.
Finish the Pipeline
In reality, social entrepreneurship is about the beginning of the evolutionary lifecycle of the well-intentioned corporation. Social entrepreneurs build small businesses and rely on small scale investors to get them off the ground. Eventually Series-A size investments come in from the Impact Investing Community. At that point, businesses are free to scale to a self-sustaining size, at which point an exit, or additional capital investment is the most logical next step. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options out there without foregoing control over the social mission (e.g. Ben & Jerry’s). The pipeline stops there.
We need more individuals who are experts at running or managing big businesses to step-in and carry the social flag even further.
Introducing the age of the WIBB
It is now time to introduce a new kind of business—a next generation social business; the social entrepreneurs version of a butterfly: the Well Intentioned Big Business (WIBB). Social Entrepreneurs should build their businesses with the dream of becoming WIBBs.
From a values perspective, WIBBs are the same as small social startups, but from an operational perspective they reach a much larger scale. Impact comes with scale and scale comes with big business. Therefore, the Well Intentioned Big Business is the ultimate goal as far as impact is concerned.
What is a WIBB? I have yet to come up with a strict definition; but part of me wonders whether creating one would defeat the point. A WIBB is a large business that maintains a focus on social and/or environmental values as if they were rules of law. WIBBs optimize for profit and growth, but they do so within the context of the social or environmental mission.
Entrepreneurs out there; remember, you aren’t just building a company and moving on; you’re about to ship something through the pipeline. Try to build a WIBB.