March 31, 2008
The social business panels included topics ranging from eyeglasses to fashion to footwear.
The Coffee Coop combines fair trade coffee from Honduras with a fund raiser for middle school students. The team wanted to support sustainable farming and teach students about micro-enterprise
Carrie Magnuson described how Scojo trains micro-entrepreneurs how to test eyesight and sell eyeglasses to the poor in remote villages. While eyeglasses are taken for granted in the West, they are missing in developing countries: an estimated 700 million people worldwide need eyeglasses. Scojo is partnering with BRAC in Bangladesh to expand their current operations using micro-franchises.
Stacey Edgar spoke about her experiences founding Global Girlfriend, a provider of women made, eco-friendly, fair trade products. Her company’s micro-entrepreneurs produce fashionable clothing made of organic cotton and purses made out of recycled plastic bags that are fused into a strong fabric.
Anthony Curci from Crocs Corporate Responsibility showed video footage of distributing some of the one million pairs of shoes in 2007. He described how shoes can prevent injury, infection, parasites and other health problems that are common when walking barefoot in developing countries. Though Crocs is a publicly traded, for-profit company, it clearly has a social mission.
The four simultaneous workshop sessions sounded interesting and I wished to attend all of them. They provided a forum where conference attendees could interact with the panelists in smaller groups.
In a session on social business and social enterprise, Grameen Foundation Founder, Alex Counts described the spectrum between a charity, a social enterprise (a microfinance institution), a social business and a profit maximizing business. At the academic applications session, Professor Warner Woodworth (Marriott Business School at Brigham Young University) discussed his efforts establishing the Center for Economic-Self Reliance and student projects where they work with existing social enterprises to empower the poor.
Overall, the conference was very successful and everyone that I talked I spoke with had learned several things and was energized to start working or continue working to eliminate global poverty. Doug Spencer from Friendship Bridge did a great job as master of ceremonies by keeping the conference running smoothly. All of the volunteers should be commended for putting on such a great conference.
My personal highlight was meeting with Muhammad Yunus. After meeting him on January 11, 2008 at a book signing in DC, I committed myself to start a business where the social mission came first and profit was secondary. Two months later, I was at a Social Business conference in Denver with a new LLC company, bank account, website, and I handed a business card to Dr. Yunus, who encouraged me.
John Hatch stated that there is a “big tent” for social business: a business may seek a social mission and avoid losses, or focus primarily on a social mission and allow for profits, or seek a profit while still addressing social concerns. A mix of all types of these organizations will be needed to tackle the challenge of global poverty.
Kevin Gormley is President of MyLocalCause.com LLC, a social business that raises funds and awareness for non-profits and schools.