Last week I read Muhammad Yunus’s latest book “Building Social Business: The New Kind of capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs.” I mentioned it in my post Charity, Micro-lending and Social Business and promised you I’d write on this topic in the future, which is now.
Yunus, the father of micro-lending (see www.grameenfoundation.org and www.kiva.org ) has done it again – come up with a novel concept, heretofore unknown, that could change everything. With micro-lending it was the idea of lending poor people small amounts of money with which they could start micro-businesses and turn their lives around.
Here the idea is to start a business (perhaps micro, or, as in his joint partnerships with Adidas and Danone, not so micro) but a business with a different focus: “A social business is outside the profit-seeking world. Its goal is to solve a social problem by using business methods, including the creation and sale of products or services.”
Two great examples from the book – Danone (the French parent company of Dannon Yogurt) is making a nutrient-enriched yogurt in a tiny mini-factory in Bangladesh which will greatly improve the health of very poor children. People can afford it, kids like it, and it’s nutrient-dense. Danone’s food engineers worked out a way to get a lot of vitamins into a very small serving (the smallness was to keep the yogurt affordable) while still having it taste good. There’s not much refrigeration in Bangladesh (and quite a lot of heat) so the distribution has to be very local. “Grameen ladies” – women involved with Grameen bank (having gotten loans for their wee businesses) add another part-time gig to their repertoire by selling the yogurt door-to-door.
Or Adidas – who took on the challenge to make ultra cheap (and still ‘cool’) shoes to help prevent ringworm and all manner of bad things you get when you go barefoot in a messy tropical country.
There’s a lot things that could be done – Streetwise in Chicago comes to mind. Or maybe the “Pay what you can” deal that Panera is doing in some of its restaurants (discussed here in this cool blog I may have to start following – Business That Cares).
Or it could be a business started by you or me.
There’s two kinds, really – the business started to solve a social problem, which is also non-profit. Or a business that may not create a good or service that helps the poor, but the profits of the company do “The second kind is a profit-making company owned by poor people, either directly or through a trust that is dedicated to a predefined social cause.”
Last fall I wrote a blog entry called Power to the People – Let’s Turn this Country Around. I suggested that we solve our own unemployment problem by creating our own jobs.
Wouldn’t it be cool to have those two ideas get married? And have lots of babies. Babies like prosperity, the end of poverty, healthy kids, less crime (no crime?), an end to the devastation caused by addiction, an end to cancer, vibrant good health, well-educated and happy children – kids like THAT?
Think we can at least let those ideas go on a date? Like —— what kind of social business could YOU start?
Maybe start by reading Professor Yunus’s book – it just might make you into the kind of person who could save the world. Because, you know? You can.