I’ve written about Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus’ microcredit movement in previous posts; I’ve just finished his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty, and in this book Yunus offers us another visionary idea for ending poverty: social business. Critiquing the triple bottom line approach of social responsibility in business, Yunus reminds readers that for-profit corporations, beholden to their shareholders and charged with increasing shareholders’ investments, can only be socially responsible to the extent that doing so does not interfere with profits. Non-profits, NGOs, and charities, on the other hand, are charged with achieving their mission through their resources, but because they must raise funds continuously, their efforts at changemaking are diluted by their need to raise money.
In comes social business. Yunus offers an entirely different model for changemaking: financially viable — even profitable — businesses, whose mission is creating positive social change. Social businesses still require investors to launch, but unlike non-profits, which require donors ad infinitum, these investors will get their money back -– they just won’t get more than their original investment. Why would anyone invest in such companies? Well, why do people donate to charities — because they want to do good in the world. Imagine this scenario, however: the donor becomes an investor who sees their funds not only going toward positive change, but also setting up businesses that succeed into the future without requiring their annual donations to stay viable. This is the premise behind Kiva.org. Investors donate small sums to enable people to start businesses. The investor is repaid and can choose to reinvest, or take back their money knowing that they’ve helped a family escape poverty. They may not have seen a “return” on their investment in the form of interest or dividends, but they’ve seen a return on their investment in the form of a better world.
Yunus wants to see the social business model grow and develop so that soon business news analyzes successful social businesses, investment opportunities specializing in social businesses appear, and social business courses in M.B.A. programs become part of the business curricula. He envisions people choosing social business as an exciting career path.
What does this have to do with humane education? Every year I revise the Institute for Humane Education’s Master of Education and Humane Education Certificate Program curricula. These programs train educators to teach about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental preservation, animal protection, and cultural issues in order to inform and inspire a generation to be engaged, knowledgeable, motivated citizens who participate in the creation of a better world for all.
Now social business is part of that equation. When I taught the 8th grade at the Bay School last month, the students were eagerly engaged in envisioning social businesses –- without my realizing that their ideas had a movement that was growing to meet them. As humane educators offer their students the most relevant information and skills for critical and creative thinking, now the vision of social business will be a viable option for those who want to make a difference in the world while making a decent living at the same time.
I highly recommend Creating a World Without Poverty, and I hope that you will spread the word about this simple, but powerful vision to your students and colleagues.